EMA Director has a servant’s heart

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, May 29, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — The heart of Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Reid is best summarized by his words “I enjoy helping people.” It is why he became a first responder and why he has stuck with it.

People might think of Reid as the “weather guy,” as the EMA’s Facebook page is usually filled with warnings about severe weather. He is much more than a weather guy although Reid would tell you he is “just Chris.” 

He is a native of Brookhaven and grew up on Nola Road. Reid is an Ole Brook and Co-Lin alumni. His career in emergency services started when he joined Heucks Retreat Volunteer Fire Department in high school. 

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“A friend got me involved in high school. It wasn’t like it is today. You were looking for something to do. We got involved helping out,” Reid said. “I stayed on there and stuck with it. I like helping people and being involved in the community. It was something I grew to love and it has played into my career.” 

John David Hart, current District 3 Supervisor and Hog Chain Volunteer Fire Department Chief, said he and Chris go way back. They completed their 1001 Fire Academy Training class together in the late 90s and have been friends ever since. 

Hart said their kids have become friends and the families have grown together. They have now stepped into leadership positions where they are able to serve the community. 

“Chris has a servant’s heart. He does what he does because he loves Lincoln County,” Hart said. “If you call him he will help you and he will be there.”

A working leader  

Reid’s childhood dream was to perhaps hunt or fish all day or have a career which allowed him to be outside. As it happens, Reid spends his days coordinating, planning and dispatching emergency response. It is the opposite of what he had wanted to do, he said. 

His office is in the new E911 building on old US51. A chair behind a desk and a computer is the last place he wants to be. His role as EMA director is more than running to a call, it involves paperwork and he has grown into it. 

Reid is a leader who wants to serve hands on and in the field. If he can go to a call, he will and has. He suited up one day in response to a house fire on Macedonia Road. Reid went into the building to make sure no one was in the residence before volunteer firemen could get on scene. 

Hart said Reid is good about leading alongside others and serving however he is needed. Sometimes his service on the scene of a call is taking over command or getting hands on. 

Reid has helped rake out grass fires, respond to medical calls and worked hours on dispatch to help out when needed. The same desire to be outside remains with him. 

“I love being outside. I’m not an inside person. I like to be out doing,” Reid said. “I have worked with the public all of these years. It is a challenging job but you can see what you have accomplished. Helping people and making a difference in people’s lives. You are there in their time of need. My kids have seen this side and they understand you are supposed to help people.” 

One common goal

The role of the EMA director is multifaceted. Reid is more than a weatherman, the EMA deals with hazmat, he is the liaison to law enforcement for any assets they do not have. He serves as the fire coordinator for Lincoln County and Brookhaven fire departments. 

The EMA helps all first responders with access to equipment and assets they do not have.They do damage assessments following storms and work on emergency planning and a community healthcare coalition. 

“You never know what is coming next. It is always something different,” Reid said. 

Reid said one of his goals is to get everyone working together and on the same page. E911 dispatch was centralized to help everyone work together.

The close collaboration of city and county emergency responders have been put to the test with two of Brookhaven’s biggest fires in recent history. The fire which destroyed the Brookhaven Apartments and killed two residents and the Stahl-Urban Fire. 

Stahl-Urban required full cooperation of law enforcement directing traffic, EMS crews providing medical care and firmen working together. While Brookhaven Fire Department worked to fight the blaze in Stahl-Urban, Volunteer Fire Departments pumped water and fought small spot fires started by embers including a fire on Rex Lumber’s property by the pellet mill. The Mississippi Forestry Commission was called in to assist with it. 

Reid saw an unprecedented wildfire season. He kindly answered The Daily Leader’s, frequent question “Any grass fires?” Rain fortunately came and brought respite to Reid and volunteer firemen who had fought wildfires several times a week. 

“It is all about partnerships. We all have a common goal to get the job done,” Reid said. 

Family is a priority

Reid’s family is a priority. His wife is a teacher and they have four kids. He tries to spend quality time with his family. It is one way he deals with the stress of being a first responder. Reid has a garden at home which helps him relax. 

“We fish a lot, I spend a lot of time with my family. We try to do a lot of fishing together,” Reid said.

Reid said he volunteered for many years to help former EMA Director Clifford Galley. When Galley decided to retire, Reid said he spoke to his wife about applying for the position. 

“We had prayed about it and knew it would be a change,” Reid said. “You are on call all the time. As a family we decided we could handle it. So far it has played out well. I was blessed.” 

Serving in the storms

His fear is the hurricane season will not be a good one. Brookhaven is one of the first stops for evacuees leaving New Orleans and south Louisiana. 

Reid was in Brookhaven when Katrina hit, helping Galley. He eventually was deployed as part of the post storm response to the coast. Six months later he was able to return home. 

“I have seen one of the worst disasters of our lifetime. It was eye opening to see how you can help people,” Reid said. “It is all about helping. I was with the state department’s ESF-8 in a response team. We got transferred after the first week or two to Hancock County working in health and medical.” 

Hurricanes have played a part of his career. It wasn’t until Hurricane Ida that he was able to be at home with his family working when a hurricane hit. 

For 18 years, Reid worked with biohazard materials as a liaison to the counties. He was part of a bioterrorism response team. The team went to North Carolina and Florida working in field hospitals. 

Reid spent three years with the Mississippi Board of Animal Health dealing with diseases in poultry mainly. It was a great job and one he enjoyed, Reid said. He would likely still be in the position if he hadn’t gotten the EMA director position. 

The future 

Reid plans to serve the community for as long as he is able. It is the heart of service that keeps him coming back even after all the bad calls he has been on. Those calls are the ones that have stayed with him unfortunately. It is different for everyone though. 

“I have had a good career with the state and county. I’m looking forward to continuing to help people and move us forward,” Reid said. “The biggest changes or challenge is the volunteers. The price increase in equipment has gone up for everyone. Fire trucks and gear aren’t cheap but budgets have stayed the same. I think I’ve made good friendships and I get everyone to work together for the common goal. What is best for the victims.” 

Anyone who might be undecided about volunteering with their local volunteer fire department should know a few things. First, you don’t have to actively fight fires to be able to serve communities. Drivers, pump operators, mechanics and even a medical responder can serve with the volunteer departments. 

“Volunteering is about helping people. You are giving back,” Reid said. “Help others. I know it is time consuming. I know people work and have a family but there is always something you can do no matter your age.”