Kevin Schuelke has a knack for organizing the pieces and parts to keep things running smoothly. He is also recognized as a dedicated and fearless leader. But, no one can do it alone. As the Milbank Fire Chief – a job he’s held for nine years – he relies on a tightly-knit team of volunteer firemen. As a part-time employee at Hedahl’s (formerly Sturdevant’s), where he has worked since high school and after tech school, he relies on his co-workers and the entire community. As the newly appointed manager of the Grant County Emergency Management program he relies on dozens of government agencies – local, state, and federal -and every citizen of Grant County.
Schuelke, who has been in his new position as EM for one month, says he is just starting to get his feet wet. He has been working closely with the former EM, Sheryl Ward, and he says. “Sometimes with EM, outsiders don’t see all that is involved and what is done. Sheryl did an excellent job and had a wonderful working relationship with the county employees and I’m hoping to build on that.”
What exactly does the EM do? The EM program led by the manager develops and updates plans to address probable emergency situations. It schedules training exercises and first responder training. The Emergency Manager acts as a liaison with the South Dakota office of Emergency Management, including updating contact information for all levels of government in Grant County and first responders. Should a disaster occur, the EM is responsible for coordinating the response.
So far, Schuelke says he has attended a lot of meetings and mandatory training. He also was called upon to deal with a multiple spill incident requiring immediate attention. Part of Schuelke’s job is to act as the middleman between the local and state government agencies. Unsurprisingly, the job requires a stack of paperwork. In the case of the recent spill, it needed to be completed and filed with Department of Environmental Natural Resources (DENR).
According to Schuelke, citizens can also participate in EM-sponsored programs. The National Weather Service in Aberdeen will present a free weather spotter class on Thursday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Milbank Fire Hall. No registration is required to attend the class which typically lasts two hours.
In an average year, the the United States experiences more than 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, and more than 1,000 tornadoes. Weather spotters are taught: the basics of thunderstorm development and storm structure, how to identify potential severe weather, the information to report, how to report the information, and severe weather safety. Potential weather spotters who complete the class will be registered and placed on the list of trained and active weather spotters with the National Weather Service. To remain on active status, spotters are required to attend training classes every other year.
Schuelke says this is an important piece of storm detection because of the location of the Whetstone Valley. The closest radar equipment is housed in Aberdeen and it can’t always spot the start of a storm at Whetstone Valley’s low elevation. He says,”This class trains individuals to help the Weather Service have more eyes and ears on the ground.”
Although Schuelke is just starting to wade through his responsibilities as Emergency Manager, he has some immediate goals. One of them, he says is to help the Grant County Fire Departments obtain a grant to purchase equipment. Another goal he says, “Is to just keep things running smoothly.”