County ESDA coordinator stepping down

By Jim McCabe on February 6 at 1:02pm

Morgan County Emergency Service Disaster Agency Director Bob Fitzsimmons is retiring after more than 30 years on the job.

Fitzsimmons made that announcement this week and says his last day will be March 28th. He began working for Morgan County ESDA in August of 1983.

Fitzsimmons says county-wide community support has made his job easy, including the support of past and present mayors of Jacksonville.

“My job is to ensure public safety on their behalf during these emergency times. They’ve given me a lot of latitude, they’ve given me a lot of support to try and do that,” says Fitzsimmons. “You can’t have any better working relationship than that.”

Fitzsimmons also thanks the businesses in the county that step up in the time of an emergency.

“When you call them, they’re there, and they’re not looking for a contract, for when they [are going to] get paid, and we all make it work,” he says. “If you need a piece of heavy equipment in the middle of the night, you can call that person, and they’re there and they give you that support, and that’s what has made this job work really well.”

Locally and nationally, Fitzsimmons says he’s seen more catastrophic events than he thought would ever happen. The biggest thing he says he’ll remember was the flood of 1993.

More recently, emergency services were also required for major flooding in Jacksonville in June of 2011 and up and down the Illinois River last spring. The river has reached major flood stage in Morgan County nine times since Fitzsimmons took over as ESDA director.

Fitzsimmons says when it comes to aid requests to assist with the cleanup effort when disasters hit, it’s been a process of trial and error in working with state and federal governments.

“A lot of different paperwork, a lot of changes. At the local level, hoops for us to jump, obligations for us to meet,” he says.

“Technology in the last 30 years [has helped]. Had two plain old telephones on the desk when I started; one was for county work, one was for city work,” Fitzsimmons says, laughing.

“Today, we’re using computers, we’re downloading emails, we’ve got direct contact with the weather service. All the various technological communications allow for better communications if we use them properly.”

Fitzsimmons says he’ll still work with the Morgan County Search and Rescue Dive Team on a volunteer basis. He says his replacement as ESDA director will be up to the Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard and the Morgan County Board of Commissioners.