By Brad Hicks
For nearly 40 years, Ed Herndon has been on the frontline anytime disaster has struck in Unicoi County.
Recently, a state agency recognized the man referred to by many in the county as “Captain Ed” for years of service and longevity in the emergency management field.
Herndon, emergency management director for Unicoi County, was recognized as the longest-serving emergency management director in the state during the Emergency Management Association of Tennessee banquet held in Chattanooga on Nov. 9.
“There’s nobody in the state with a longer tenure that they could find records for,” Herndon said.
Herndon was born in southern West Virginia and received his Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Tech. Herndon said he was commissioned to the U.S. Army Reserve in 1969 and completed two active duty stints which included overseas assignments.
Herndon has worked with Unicoi County for 38 of the 41 years he has resided in Erwin. Prior to becoming the county’s emergency management director, Herndon worked for two years with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. He was appointed as the county’s civil defense director in June 1980. For several years after his appointment, Herndon continued to work with the UCSD, as the director’s post did not become a full-time position until around 1991.
As emergency management director, Herndon said he is responsible for the coordination of planning, preparation, training and pursuit of grant funding among emergency services agencies. He has also served as the county’s coroner for approximately 30 years.
It was in 2014 that the Emergency Management Association of Tennessee decided to honor long-serving local emergency management directors. Those awards were given during the annual banquet held in November, meaning Herndon has known for two years that he would be the recipient of the award for longest-tenured emergency management director.
“I knew about it two years ago,” he said. (The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) had told me that they had found out that their records showed I was the longest serving director. I knew I had thirty-something years in, but I figured it was some old guy from west Tennessee that had been in longer than me. Come to find out it was an old guy in east Tennessee.”
Still, this did not lessen the impact of the recognition.
“It’s made me happy,” Herndon said. “It’s an accomplishment, a positive accomplishment. And I’ve found out since the word got out that I’m treated more politely by people in the business.”
During his time as emergency management director, Herndon said he assisted with the preparation and response to numerous local floods, tornadoes in adjoining counties, and has developed Unicoi County’s emergency plans. Other stand out incidents and work include the response to a train wreck involving hazardous materials that occurred around 30 years ago, the plane crash that occurred on Buffalo Mountain last year, and the fire that burned the old Erwin Town Hall building in April 2009.
Ensuring that Unicoi County receives or helps deliver mutual aid from emergency services agencies in nearby counties is also important, Herndon said.
“It’s not uncommon for us to send a unit out into another county or into North Carolina to help them,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for mutual aid, we would have probably lost most of downtown Erwin when the old town hall burned. Mutual aid also came into play in the plane crash on Buffalo Mountain.”
Herndon’s recognition from the state was also recognized at Monday’s meeting of the Unicoi County Commission.
“We appreciate your years of service in every capacity but, especially, in this role and all that you do for our county,” said Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice.