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Home / Articles / News / Cover Story /  People of the year runners up
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Thursday, December 26,2013

People of the year runners up

Those still deserving recognition

Dan Eamon

Dan Eamon, Longmont’s emergency manager, was one of the first people mentioned when BW asked about the people who played a crucial role in that city’s flood response.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle points to the fact that Eamon served as grand marshal in Longmont’s Parade of Lights thanks to his efforts during the September flooding as evidence that the preparation exercises Eamon launched for various natural disasters paid off.

“He started all the planning for flooding many years ago,” adds Det. Cmdr. Jeff Satur of the Longmont Police Department.

Rigo Leal, public information officer for the city of Longmont, served on the emergency planning committee that Eamon helped form after he was hired nearly six years ago, and he says practicing for a flood scenario helped the city immensely.

Eamon says that committee has conducted preparation exercises for a different natural disaster each year, and it focused on flooding two years ago. He says when the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently changed the city’s floodplain map, it prompted the city to go door-to-door to every city resident in the floodplain in an effort to educate them as well as encourage them to sign up for the city’s emergency notification system. Whether those residents’ choice was to be notified by reverse 911 call, text or email, Eamon says the outreach paid off when the real deal arrived last September.

He lauds the residents who chipped in to help the community, from the neighbors around the shelter at the St. Vrain Memorial Building who did laundry for families staying there and brought toys for their kids to play with to the members of the Southmoor Park community who turned out with snow shovels to dig out mud along Lefthand Drive.

Eamon also says city staff gave their time freely and selflessly.

“The human resources department came over and answered phones for five days,” he says. “We never, one time, heard ‘no,’ and that was a community-wide thing. What I’m going to remember is what the community did to support each other.”

Victoria Simonsen, Lyons town administrator

By all accounts, Lyons Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen has gone above and beyond, not only in the immediate emergency response to the September flood that wiped out much of her town, but in the recovery effort that ensued.

“She’s been working tirelessly, nonstop, 24 hours a day, working with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to help her little community,” says Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle.

Lyons Town Clerk Deb Anthony says Simonsen and another employee who live in Lyons were the only ones on duty for days because the other staffers couldn’t get into town.

“They were up for virtually 72 hours straight,” Anthony says, noting that the floodwaters even separated Simonsen from her home for a period of time.

Anthony adds that Simonsen has been working tirelessly ever since and seems to have a boundless amount of energy.

“She didn’t stop,” she says of Simonsen. “It was just incredible, the way she just kept everything going and everything straight in her head all the time.”

Anthony also notes that under Simonsen’s leadership, the majority of the town’s residents have returned.

“She wanted everybody home by the holidays,” she says of Simonsen. “We don’t have everybody, we still have some people down in the confluence area whose homes are just not habitable at this point. But she’s probably got 80 percent of the town or more back home, with all their utilities. … We’re lucky to have her. She is just awesome.”

Longmont Emergency Manager Dan Eamon agrees that Simonsen deserves recognition, saying that the depth of what Lyons has endured pales in comparison to what his city experienced.

“I was so impressed with the way she kept it together,” he says. “She was a steadfast leader for her town. She believes in her community, and that was her goal, to get her community back on track.”

Det. Cmdr. Jeff Satur of the Longmont Police Department echoed those sentiments, noting that his city provided assistance to the Town of Lyons in various ways, and Simonsen was not too proud to ask for help when it was needed.

“She did a good job of getting Lyons back on its feet,” Satur says. “She had the comfort to say, ‘We can’t do this all by ourselves.’ They leaned on Longmont a lot.”

Jeff Webb, deputy chief and fire marshall for the Boulder Rural Fire Department

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, or something like that.

Before the September floods, the Boulder Rural Fire Department, a mostly volunteer outfit, had a 60-page plan in case of flooding in the area where the Fourmile Fire raged just a few years ago.

“We had this great plan, but the storm was well beyond the scope of everything we ever expected,” says Jeff Webb, deputy chief and fire marshal for the Boulder Rural Fire Department. “So it forced us to make changes on the fly.” The September floods pulverized entire communities, and first responders in the community were forced to work days and nights to make sure as many people as possible got to safety. Many people likely deserve the title of person of the year, but we are going to recognize Webb as a runner-up for ability to adapt as the flood began to surpass the meticulous flood response plan drafted years earlier.

For instance, floodwaters and mudslides trapped mountain residents behind impassable roads. So firefighters hiked up the hills and went door-to-door, contacting residents and getting them to safety. The department’s fire engines were cherry-picking people off rooftops, but some of the locations the plan called for to be used as temporary housing were for some reason unavailable.

“We had an evacuation plan that was going to send them to a church on Jay Road, so the problem was that the person who was going to open up the church was trapped behind water, so they couldn’t open up the church,” Webb recalls.

Again, the firefighters had to improvise. “We were driving [people who were rescued] around in the fire truck because there was no place to put them,” Webb says. “So it was like, as soon as we find a safe place for you, we’ll find you a safe place, but for right now, these people are going to have to ride around with us. … We eventually just took them back to our station and put them in the easy chairs, put some blankets over them, and let them sleep for a few hours until we could find them a place to go.”

Webb himself found himself averaging maybe three hours of sleep a night, essentially moving from call to call for 40 hours straight. After the floodwaters receded, Webb didn’t stop. He spearheaded a fundraising campaign to help firefighters whose homes were damaged, raising and distributing almost $18,000.

“It is a brotherhood,” he says of firefighting.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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