BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – He’s no stranger to first responder work and now has a job that seems to be right up his alley.
Montrose Volunteer Fire Chief and Lee County EMS staffer Jason Dinwiddie took over as Lee County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Monday replacing Steve Cirinna, who retired after 17 years.
Dinwiddie said Tuesday most of the transition into the position has been made easier due to the connections he has with area first responders.
“I know almost all the players there,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s gonna be getting to know the leaders of the industries and their safety officers that’s going to take some time. That’s huge for the emergency services side of this job. I already knew everybody, so there wasn’t a lot of introductions locally needed.”
He said the real work will be in getting to know people in the private sector and navigating the grants that keep funding streams active.
“There’s quite a bit of red tape in any government work and a lot of our funding comes from grants passed through from the state that are passed down from the federal level,” he said.
“You wanna talk about red tape, there’s all kinds of double and triple checking. But the folks at the state are awesome,” Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie began his career at 19 as a medical staffer on Catfish Bend Casino until Lee County EMS hired him when he could be legally run on ambulances. He’s also been a reserve police officer and a reserve sheriff’s deputy.
He said the state’s emergency management operations are likely going to be changed permanently due to the response to the coronavirus, but some of the lessons of pandemic can and should be applied going forward regardless of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Everybody says they’ve upped their game, but why. We should have been doing that along.”
Dinwiddie also serves on the Public Service Answering Point (PSAP) board so he’s familiar with the budgeting side of things.
“I’m on the PSAP board so that part of it I’ve already been dealing with. It seems like big dollars, but it’s mostly just pass through money.”
Cirinna said the state’s emergency management systems has gone through many changes in his 17 1/2 years going from a terrorism focus, back to natural disaster focus, and now to virus containment.
“Since I started we’ve always been planning for pandemics, epidemics and that sort of thing,” Cirinna said. “But with this one, the plans we looked at and what we were planning for was a lot different than what COVID is doing.”
He said prior planning was for things like smallpox and diseases where you would go to a specific spot and give shots and dispense meds. He said this issue doesn’t involve any meds you can hand out.
The U.S. Coast Guard veteran said natural disasters are different because they come to an end eventually, then you go into recovery and clean up and bring things back to where they were.
“With COVID it’s a whole different ball game,” he said. “It changes all the time. Don’t wear a mask, wear a mask, social distance, increased testing.”
He said the only true way to know the toll of the virus is the hospitalization and death data, and he said we don’t know the long-term effects of this virus. So emergency management is now focusing on planning for rebounds of the virus.
Cirinna put his replacement in the last fiscal county budget year to help pay for training for Dinwiddie, which is something that Cirinna didn’t get.
“I got one day with my predecessor. That’s why it was important for me to be able to work with Jason for the past four months, but with COVID, he kind of got focused on that issue and not much training on the other things,” he said.
Dinwiddie started April 1, but was immediately engaged with COVID webinars and then officially took over duties Monday.