Kevin Williams knows Rappahannock County like the back of his hand, and that’s a good thing when you are wearing the hats of Emergency Services and Emergency Management Coordinator.
“I was born and raised in Chester Gap,” says Williams, who graduated in 1995 from Rappahannock County High School, where he played center on the basketball team.
Today, his two sons attend RCPS, one in the elementary school, the other just starting high school. His wife is a substitute teacher for the school system.
Williams says he wasn’t much older than his sons when he became a volunteer firefighter in Chester Gap in 1990 at the ripe young age of 14. It wasn’t too many years later that he rose to assistant fire chief. Upon graduating from RCHS, he joined VDOT, where he worked as a contract administrator, and remained there until 16 years ago when he became a career firefighter with the U.S. government, serving as an assistant fire chief.
“I work shift work where I’m off several days each week, so there’s no void in the county,” stresses Williams, whose two positions here are part time. “And I have two volunteer coordinators under me to assist.”
That said, Williams is always in close contact with the county government and its volunteer fire system.
“I basically wear two hats: Emergency Services Coordinator is one of the positions, and Emergency Management is the second hat. In the first I assist the volunteer [fire and rescue] departments, making sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs, work with the association to make sure that we’re monitoring all the departments’ performances, basically being a liason and a resource to them [with the] county government.
“The Emergency Management side, as a part time employee, keeps me the busiest: preparing for disasters or any major storms coming in — whether rain, snow, hurricane, or tornado. The county has what we call an Emergency Operations Plan, and if we ever have a major event that plan is put into place and spells out what we have to do from the top down as far as setting up an emergency operations center, what resources are available to us to call in and have on standby. That’s the biggest part of that position, to make sure we are prepared for any disaster.”
Williams assumed both county positions in May. And anybody since then who has stepped outdoors in Rappahannock County knows how bizarre the weather has been.
“Ever since I’ve come into this position its seems like it’s done nothing but rain,” he recalls. “We had a very heavy rainstorm on June 22, and I was actually out of town on vacation in Myrtle Beach. We were set to come back on a Monday and that rain event hit on a Friday. I told my wife that we had a lot of flooding going on, so we left Saturday early to come back.”
And for good reason.
“Because of the Emergency Management aspect, any time there is major flooding or anything like it I always have to go out and do a damage assessment for VDEM — the Virginia Department of Emergency Management — to let them know dollar figures [surrounding] road damage, washed out roads and what have you, and send pictures. Eventually if they declare a state of emergency, and we declare a state of emergency, there is always that possibility that we can get certain funds to recoup our costs.
“Knock on wood we haven’t gotten there yet since I’ve been in office.”
Regardless, Williams is prepared for any major event, including recently when Rappahannock County was briefly under threat from a more direct hit by Hurricane Florence.
“The prep for Florence makes for full days,” he says. “Monitoring the weather with the National Weather Service — I speak to them directly about [potential] impacts specifically to Rappahannock County. I hold conference calls with emergency management, make sure the sheriff’s office receives the most up to date information, work with the fire chiefs, work with the schools and [Superintendent] Dr. Grimsley.
“So there’s a whole lot of moving parts when preparing for an event like that,” he says, “including the recent flooding in Sperryville. But again, I enjoy it.”
William’s paternal grandfather, Herman Williams, was the very first fire chief in Chester Gap in 1960. His maternal grandfather, Clabert Smoot, lived in Washington on Fodderstack Road.
“Clabert was the one who always drove the point to us, his family, “If you have an ambition for what you want to be when you grow up you stick with it. You work hard to get.”
Williams never forgot that advice, “it stuck with me.” He knew he wanted to be a fireman, like his grandfather, who besides volunteering for Chester Gap was part of a fire brigade in Front Royal.
“It got in my blood and I’ve been been doing it ever since,” Williams says today. “I especially enjoy working here in the county with the volunteers. It’s a lot of work, and it’s one of those jobs you have to be careful not to let it consume you. That’s what the fire chiefs all told me.
“Several of these fire chiefs were fire chiefs when I got into it when I was 14,” he adds. “One of my first instructors who taught me was J.B. Carter in Amissville — he taught me numerous classes, and as time moved on we have taught classes together.”
Richie Burke, whose footsteps Williams has followed into county government, and who today remains chief of the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department, was similarly there when Williams first became a firefighter. Williams still looks up to these veterans today, and for that matter still depends on them.
“I know if there is something I need I can call them,” he says.