When he blew out the candles on his “sweet 16” birthday cake, Al Whitaker already had his eyes set on the prospect of extinguishing much larger fires. That very day, he joined his local volunteer fire department and started down a path that found him some 32 years later being named West Virginia’s Emergency Manager of the Year.

Whitaker said he had “no clue” that Paula Brown, his second in command at the Greenbrier County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, had nominated him for the honor, which was presented during the state Emergency Response Commission conference in Charleston Aug. 27.

“I was very excited (to get the award),” Whitaker said. “It’s a very great honor.”

Whitaker is the first southern West Virginia emergency manager to win the award, given in recognition for outstanding work in local programs, statewide committees and training endeavors.

Pointing out that Greenbrier County Commission President Karen Lobban also wrote a letter supporting the emergency manager’s nomination, Brown noted that Whitaker’s accomplishments are many.

“We were fortunate in Greenbrier County to obtain an emergency manager with such extensive background in emergency services, fire and EMS when Al was hired in 2007,” Brown wrote in the letter nominating Whitaker as Manager of the Year.

She added, “(O)ne would be hard-pressed to find a harder worker, more dedicated, or more knowledgeable public safety professional in West Virginia.

“Al is definitely not a ‘daily duties as assigned’ kind of manager. He continually takes on added responsibility and challenges, going above and beyond all the duties and expectations demanded by the county commission.”

Brown explained that Whitaker took on the additional responsibility of serving as the county’s 911 director in 2012, immediately tackling several capital improvement projects and upgrades needed at the 911 center.

Thanks to Whitaker’s years of experience in providing leadership in developing emergency operations plans for large-scale Greenbrier County events like the State Fair of West Virginia and The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament, he was tapped to serve as hazmat coordinator for this summer’s Boy Scout Jamboree.

“He was at the Summit the whole time,” Brown said in a telephone interview with The Register-Herald. “When it came time for their big concert, they turned to Al to coordinate that as well.”

Whitaker noted his experience in large-scale events goes back even further than the beginning of his job in Greenbrier County, pointing out he also was involved in the state’s emergency planning during a Rainbow Family gathering and when evacuees from Louisiana arrived in West Virginia after Hurricane Katrina.

A native of Marfrance, Whitaker started his career in fire and ambulance service in western Greenbrier County in 1980 and has since worked in the emergency response field in several areas of the state, including Raleigh County, where he currently makes his home.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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