The City of Ashland has created a new position to oversee an Emergency Operations Command Center
In June 2022, the Ashland City Council and City Manager, Joseph L. Lessard, recognized the need to create an Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) position. This essential position would help ensure that the City is prepared for emergency situations and have the necessary resources for recovery following a major incident.
In January 2023, the City hired Kelly Burns as the new EMC. Burns, a seasoned firefighther (Battalion Chief)/EMT-Paramedic who served 32 years with the Ashland Fire & Rescue Department, officially started in his new capacity on February 1, 2023.
“Joe and I are excited to have Kelly in this role. Not only does he have years of on the ground emergency experience as a firefigher/paramedic professional, which gives him a unique perspective, his dedication and service to this community over the years has resulted in strong relationships with various partners. He is uniquely positioned to ensure the City is ready to respond in an emergency situation and we feel we are in good hands with Kelly as our Emergency Management Coordinator.” - Sabrina Cotta, Deputy City Manager.
The City of Ashland has established a new partnership with Southern Oregon University (SOU) and the Ashland School District (ASD) to develop joint Emergency Management Plans and Operations to anticipate potential risks and prepare for expedient and accurate communications and incident support during a crisis. These plans will assure timely, coordinated, and consistent communication with Ashland citizens, businesses, public organizations and visitors.
Under Burns direction, the partners will create a joint Emergency Operations Center (EOC) facility and provide training to employees from each partner organization for incident management positions that can support the efforts and work required during and after major, local incidents. “We are building and strengthening the partnerships that exist within our community to better address the community’s need during times of crises,” stated Burns. Building and developing a joint EOC is of top priority.
“My immediate goal from day one is to coordinate and implement the cooperative agreement between the City, SOU and the ASD. Once established, we’ll be working to equip a fully functional Emergency Operations Center by early summer 2023 (only 13 weeks until fire season!),” stated Burns. He will also focus on educating Ashland citizens and visitors to be prepared to take care of themselves and evacuate if needed. Have a to-go kit, practice evacuation routes, know your zone for evacuation, sign up for and monitor emergency alerts. “Together, if we do these things, the next significant events will feel more manageable. My vision for this position is to build community hope, increase resiliency and ensure safety for the people of Ashland and the greater Rogue Valley.”
In 2020, Burns was the initial incident commander, first on scene, of the Almeda Fire. “I think as many in this valley do: the Almeda Fire remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I still see and feel it’s impacts, every day. What I am reminded of with this event was how immediately overmatched our response equipment and personnel were. As a first responder and trainer for 32 years, I’ve faced challenges that consistently went (and continue to go) beyond my capabilities. The Almeda fire made it abundantly clear that we can’t solely rely on our response personnel to come to our aid. I made this career move to make the push at a community level to get all of us better prepared. I want to bring my energy, experience and fortitude in facing hard things to the citizens, businesses and partners of Ashland. Climate change and human caused catastrophes have outpaced our capability to solely rely on our amazing responders to solve our collective crises. We need each other and we need to work together better. These times we are in are scary, but they don’t have to be. I hope to contribute to a more hopeful and sustainable future for all of Ashland and surrounding communities.”
Burns holds a deep affection for Ashland and was recently inspired by Mayor Tonya Graham’s words in her 2023 State of the City Address, when she encouraged all of us to keep, “… getting our hands on the rope, and leaning in hard to protect what we love.” In Burns’ role as EMC, he resolves to get his hands on the rope and lean in hard to protect the City and the way of life in Ashland.
“We are better together!”
The bell pictured above, was Ashland'searliest emergency alerting method.