Before he was even asked a true question last Thursday afternoon, Eric Mohrmann already had a pen in hand and had begun sketching an incident command diagram. The Kenai Peninsula Borough's new Office of Emergency Management director looked like a war general as he drew up the plan that most organized emergency units follow when doing battle against fire or other major disasters.
Mohrmann's instinct to think conceptually should serve him well in his new job with the borough because OEM's function is to facilitate responses to emergencies.
"Our role is to develop plans for what we are going to do if disaster happens and to ensure that if one should occur that we are going to act to the best of our abilities to address the problem," Mohrmann said.
Mohrmann has filled a position that was not vacated under amicable terms. In January, Scott Walden, the borough's former OEM director, submitted his resignation along with a lengthy criticism of the Carey administration.
In a letter sent to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey and to Assembly President Pete Sprague accompanying Walden's resignation, Walden said Carey needed to put more trust in borough employees and the assembly.
"His letter prompted me to review where I was spending my time. Rather than the day-to-day management, I'm focusing on the larger issues," Carey said. "I have a better sense that the borough, to a large extent, operates on its own."
Carey also said he's changed his relationship with borough leaders.
"I have much more collaboration with department heads to talk about how we're doing things and where we're headed," Carey said. "I think we're making better decisions as a result.
"I expect to have a very good relationship with Eric (Mohrmann) like I thought I had with Scott (Walden) until the end," Carey said.
Mohrmann said he isn't worried about the past.
"The job here is a very important one and the mayor has been very supportive of the office and welcoming of me," Mohrmann said. "As far as I'm concerned, everything is a fresh slate and we are going to go forward to make the Peninsula safe for everyone who lives here."
Just as Mohrmann offers a fresh slate for the borough, the borough offers a new chapter in Mohrmann's life.
Before taking the borough job, Mohrmann had been with the Fairbanks Fire Department for more than 19 years. Mohrmann's most recent title was deputy fire marshal, and he was responsible for running a fire prevention bureau. His duties included construction fire code reviews, fire safety educational programs and fire investigation, among other tasks.
Mohrmann said he appreciates the camaraderie among emergency personnel.
"It's people who like to do the same kinds of things. They want to help people out," Mohrmann said. "And they are kind of fun to be with."
Mohrmann's move to the Kenai Peninsula came, in part, so he could be near Anchorage, where he has a lot of family.
Mohrmann says his new job with the borough won't be all that different from his position in Fairbanks. Some of the details will change, but the general tactics will remain the same.
"Instead of organizing an attack on a fire, I might be organizing a shelter for some displaced residents where they can be safe," Mohrmann said.
Still, Mohrmann said he has a lot to learn. He spent much of Thursday familiarizing himself with borough protocols and meeting and learning about the people and resources he will need to consult during an emergency.
"The Kenai Peninsula Borough has its own unique set of hazards and its own challenges," Mohrmann said, referring to volcanoes, seismic activity and tourism traffic. "Learning about those is really interesting."
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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