Tribune-Courier News Reporter
In Marshall County Fiscal Court this month, Tim Polley, pastor of the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ, made a motion to honor emergency responders in Marshall County.
“The first responders of Marshall County sacrifice their time and personal safety in the execution of their duties to protect the public on a daily basis,” he said. “And whereas first responders are the first line of defense for the public in the wake of threats to our homes and our families.”
The court agreed to the motion, creating a weekend dedicated to those who work tirelessly in the wake of disasters in the region.
Following Emergency Responders Weekend, earlier last week, Melissa (Combs) McFerrin, director of Marshall County Emergency Management was appointed as the state’s Emergency Management Director of the Year.
Combs started her career in emergency response as a volunteer firefighter with the East Marshall Fire Department in 1995, and said the work she did as a volunteer led her to where she is now.
Combs was appointed director of Marshall County Emergency Management in May 2008 after working as the administrative specialist in the Marshall County office for four years. Combs said she was pleasantly surprised when she found out she had been selected as EM director of the year.
“It’s a real honor to know, to suspect, that the nomination for director of the year came from region 2 and that they recognized our hard work,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work throughout the state with little resources so it’s an honor.”
Marshall County is part of region 1 alongside 10 other counties. Combs said she, and her office, is tasked with coordinating local efforts in the event of an emergency.
“If locals can’t find the resources they need we are the liaison to other departments and to the state level,” she said. “We are the networking between emergency services. We maintain good and open communication between channels.”
Combs helps coordinate several emergency service offices in Marshall County, including 10 fire departments, the sheriff’s office, two police stations, the ambulance service, the rescue squad, the Lakeland chapter of the American Red Cross and the health department.
She said her work isn’t stressful on a normal day, but when disaster strikes that can change quickly.
“We get involved more with disasters – structure fires, floods, ice storms,” she said. “If an agency needs help from other services that’s where we step in,”
“It depends on the incident and what those responders need,” she said. “When there was a diesel leak weeks ago we made notifications to the state department and the EPA to let them know we were handling the hazard correctly.”
Combs said one of her projects that has been the most rewarding was helping establish the West Kentucky Incident Management Team which is comprised of emergency management agencies in the region.
The group meets monthly for fellowship and training to better learn what each can provide in the event of a disaster.
“When eastern Kentucky was hit with a tornado we deployed over there to help with emergency service coordination efforts,” she said. “We’ve formalized a group of which I’m proud to be a member.”
Combs said it’s a continued effort in making sure her office promotes unity throughout the branches of service in the region – a very large task, she said.
“We also help mentor other regions so they aren’t left to fend for themselves and will be able to coordinate emergency response,” she said.
Another project she and her office helped establish was a preplanning effort for Tater Day festivities.
She said the group plans ahead for a variety of hazards including weather.
“It’s been a successful effort and we’ve been asked to keep that going,” she said. “It brings together emergency responders and Kiwanis to help pre-plan for our events.”
The emergency responders plan for the events throughout the weekend and Kiwanis coordinates the parade and the barbecue cook-off.
“The meetings bring together the fire department, police department, ambulance service and the national weather service,” she said. “It’s been very helpful to bring everyone together to make these events run better.”
The culmination of efforts by Combs led to her appointment as EM director of the year earlier in September.