ESDA coordinator, sheriff’s department employee bid farewell on Friday

By Jim McCabe on March 29 at 8:24am

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Yesterday was the last day on the job for a long-time Morgan County official.

Emergency Services Disaster Agency Director Bob Fitzsimmons said goodbye to co-workers at the Jacksonville Municipal Building, where he’s served in that capacity for more than 30 years. He began working for Morgan County ESDA in August of 1983.

From huge snowstorms to tornadoes, floods, high winds, you name it: Fitzsimmons has seen it, as he told Gary Scott on WLDS’ “AM Conversation.”

“Every major disaster is just a lot of small ones, and you focus on the important things right off the bat. You gotta focus on life safety, and you gotta start attacking it and you gotta show people that you’re communicating and that you are trying to put things in order and that you have a plan to make things happen,” says Fitzsimmons.

“It may not go right, but you’re constantly adjusting to that to try to do the best for the citizens.”

Not just in Morgan County. Fitzsimmons has participated in cleanup efforts on bigger stages, too.

“Being deployed as a state resource to run incident command on the 1993-1995 floods, and then you found you need to develop teams, and the next thing [you know], you’re going to Mississippi and being in command for 70 counties on one of the largest [teams],” says Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons says the amount of lead time given to disaster coordinators now versus when he started the job has greatly improved. He says technology is great, but…

“You have to have verification. You can’t replace all [people] with technology,” he says. “Technology is just another tool to help us do our job.”

ESDA administrative assistant Beth Hopkins will be the interim ESDA director. A replacement has yet to be announced and will be determined by Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard and the Morgan County Board of Commissioners.

Also yesterday, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department said goodbye to one of its longest-tenured officers yesterday.

A retirement party was held for Dick Heise, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 25 years.

Heise worked in the Corrections Department until 1989, when he became a road deputy. In 1994, he started working with the Illinois State Police Drug Task Force, where’s he’s worked since.

“I thought it was a great job. I loved doing it and coming to work every day,” says Heise. “I’m gonna be leaving a lot of great people up here at the sheriff’s department.”

The retirement ceremony was held at the sheriff’s office.