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Nicora selected state's Emergency Management Director of the Year

Date: 11/25/2009

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

AGAWAM -- The job description for the town's Emergency Management Director (EMD) may list the position as part-time, but when that was written Chet Nicora wasn't at the helm.

He's the kind of guy who volunteers to spend four days of his own time answering the phones for the District III and IV Office of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to get them through an ice storm emergency, then loads cots in his own vehicle and drives them to an undersupplied shelter.

He's raided his own personal emergency water supply to ensure firefighters in a neighboring town were adequately provisioned while battling a major blaze.

This October, Nicora's willingness to go above and beyond his job description was officially recognized. He was selected as the Massachusetts Emergency Manager of the Year for 2009 by the Northeast States Emergency Consortium, a non-profit all-hazards emergency management organization.

The award was presented during a regional meeting in Agawam on Oct. 29.

"I didn't know anything about it until the meeting we had here," Nicora told Reminder Publications. "They called me up and made the announcement."

He said he was surprised by the recognition.

"A lot of things you don't do for credit. You do because they are needed," he said, gesturing to a letter describing some of his work that was submitted as part of his nomination.

"He's a consummate emergency management director," Patrick Carnevale, MEMA regional manager for Districts III and IV, who nominated Nicora for the prestigious award, said. " [He] has a solid background in emergency management, but still wants to grow and learn from his colleagues."

Carnevale said there are 351 emergency management directors in Massachusetts, but this former town assessor and 45-year call firefighter -- who assumed the town's EMD position in 2002 when the department consisted of some non-functioning radios, a few chairs and a table in the Police Department -- has always stood out above the rest.

"There are emergency management directors who do their jobs ... he goes beyond that. He's built [an emergency management command center] trailer for the town on limited supplies," Carnevale said.

Nicora himself is most proud of helping Agawam to become the sixth community in the state to have achieved Storm Readiness status in 2008, and also of having assisted Six Flags New England, which falls within the borders of his community, to become one of the largest theme parks in the northeast to receive the Storm Readiness ranking.

Fifteen volunteers -- including four ham radio specialists -- now man the radios and computers that fill the two rooms dedicated to his emergency management office at the Agawam DPW building on Suffield Street. A television constantly carries a weather feed, and the department has its own weather station on the roof, allowing Nicora, to post warnings on the department's Web site and send detailed weather updates and emergency warnings to residents via e-mails and through a service called Connect-CTY.

He said his department stands ready to assist the town's police and fire departments in any way necessary whenever they are needed.

"It was great for me," Nicora said of his appointment to the EMD position seven years ago. "I really enjoyed the call fire department for 45 years [and] it was traumatic when it ended."

"When I got into this I got a lot of support from department heads," he continued. "We run smoothly now."