Dean Meadows retiring after three decades

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Dean Meadows ended his career in emergency management by walking through a flood-damaged home Thursday with the homeowner following the recent torrential rainfall in Hanover.

“She had about six inches of water in her home,” Meadows said, adding he hadn’t learned of those homes being flooded until earlier that day.

“I went through every room with her, she had me look in every closet – while she cried.

“That’s been the toughest part of this job is seeing the hurt people go through when there’s been a disaster.

“I thought it was ironic that I would end my career doing the same thing I’ve done all these years,” he said.

Meadows is retiring Sunday after 31 years as Wyoming County’s Emergency Services director. In fact, he is the county’s first Emergency Services director.

In 1991, the county Commission tapped him to oversee the new 911 center.

“I was real excited. It was new and I was excited by the newness of it all,” he recalled.

“They took me to the third floor of the (former) jail. It was a mess. Emerson Stewart (then the assistant director) and I designed the building.

“We started out with a lot to learn,” Meadows said, adding they soon became one of the most respected 911 centers in the state.

The state’s Emergency Services office has often requested Meadows assist with operations during emergencies across West Virginia, which include catastrophic flooding, destructive winter storms, and detrimental wind events.

He has managed six presidentially-declared disasters during his career.

Meadows has also served as president of both the West Virginia 911 Council and the West Virginia Emergency Management Council. The state Emergency Management Council changed its bylaws so Meadows could serve four years as president rather than the three as had been the rule.

Additionally, Meadows has been recognized with numerous state awards and honors, including the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security’s inaugural Freedom Award for Leadership, presented by Gov. Jim Justice.

He also received the 2009 West Virginia E911 Council President’s Award as the state’s top 911 director and was chosen as the 2016 West Virginia Emergency Manager of the Year.

“The Wyoming County Commission would like to thank Dean Meadows for his many years of dedicated service to Wyoming County and its citizens,” emphasized Jason Mullins, commission president.

“As the director of Emergency Services, he has made our county proud.

“Dean has went above and beyond what is expected of a director.

“He has touched a lot of lives in their darkest hour. His hard work and dedication will be missed. I personally would like to thank Dean for his friendship and wish him a happy retirement,” Mullins noted.

After graduating from West Virginia University in 1982, Meadows wanted a career as a sports writer. However, he settled in as a substitute teacher at Huff Consolidated School. He went on to serve as the principal and a teacher at Turkey Ridge Baptist Church School, where his children attended at the time.

Then, he went to work for the county, holding various positions, including airport manager, corrections officer, and deputy sheriff.

“I was on the midnight shift and it was pretty quiet in those days,” he recalled of his three years as a deputy. “So I spent my time driving all the roads in Wyoming County. It was a way of learning the county and I met a lot of people that way.”

It was a good experience for his job as county Emergency Services director, Meadows said.

The Emergency Center staff are the first assistance when callers dial 911.

“When someone calls 911, we are the police officer. We are the fire department. We are the ambulance,” Meadows noted.

“I tell people when I interview them, this is not like working at (a fastfood restaurant). There, when someone orders a hamburger and you give them a fish sandwich, that’s an ‘oops’. Here, people’s lives depend on us getting it right the first time.”

In 1997, the county Commission added to his duties by making him responsible for flood plain management, which gave him the responsibility of educating residents on how to build their homes above the flood plain, thus, out of harm’s way and according to federal regulations. Today, he is a nationally certified flood plain manager.

At the time he was first assigned the extra responsibilities, Wyoming County was on probation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

A representative of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by FEMA, walked into Meadows’ office and placed 25 pictures on his desk. Each one of the photos depicted a federal flood plain violation.

The county was about to be sanctioned, which meant no one in the county could have obtained flood insurance and no one would have been able to get assistance from FEMA in the event of a disaster.

Meadows asked the NFIP representative, if he could remedy 20 of the violations, would that be good enough to put the county back in good standing. He told Meadows he was the first county official willing to address the problems.

It took Meadows three years to bring the county back into federal compliance.

“We came off probation in July of 2000,” he said. “In 2001, we had the flood of record.”

On July 8, 2001, all but two communities in Wyoming County were hit by devastating flood waters. At the time, it was termed the worst disaster in West Virginia history.

“The first 48 hours were really tough,” Meadows recalled.

“For those first few hours I felt helpless, just helpless. The water kept coming up and there was really nothing we could do about it.

“We were cut off. Nobody could get in to the county and then we were cut off within the county (every road was blocked for at least a time).

“We’ve come a long way as far as flood plain management is concerned. I’ve seen a big difference since July 8, people seem to understand now they need to make sure they do it right.”

Prior to the flood, Meadows said people didn’t like being told how to build on their property.

“It was this whole scenario of ‘This is my land and I’ll do what I want.’

“I don’t think a lot of people understood this is to protect them and to protect their neighbor,” Meadows said. “After the flood, I had as many as six people call and tell me, had it not been for me, they would have lost everything they had.”

One man moved his mobile home into the most vulnerable location in the county after the flood plain ordinance was adopted. Meadows forced him to raise the home.

“That guy posted a sign in his yard that said ‘No county officials allowed on this property.’

“In 2001, every home around him, the ones that had been grandfathered in, was flooded.

“He called me and told me he wanted to apologize and thanked me for making him obey the law.”

The man told Meadows if he hadn’t been made to bring his home into compliance, he’d have lost everything.

“That’s a good feeling,” Meadows said. “Most people now are very understanding of flood plain management; 2001 changed everything.”

Meadows is also gratified at the outcome of the federal Hazard Migation program in which the government buys property that has been repeatedly flooded. Meadows served as the project manager for eight Hazard Mitigation grant applications and, as a result, dozens of families and business properties in the county have been moved from harm’s way through the program.

Additionally, under his direction, the 911 office tackled the county’s mammoth addressing and mapping program, in which every house was assigned a “city-type” address. Required by the state, the addressing program helped identify each house with a specific address and required unduplicated names for more than 400 roads in the county and an address number for every house and business.

The project was designed so that emergency responders can find locations faster.

“I’ve known Dean for at least 31 years,” noted Mike Tatum, Cabell County Emergency Services.

“Dean has given me a lot of knowledge over the years,” Tatum said. “A lot of what I know (about emergency services) came from Dean.

“He cares about his people. He cares about his county,” Tatum emphasized.

While facing the demanding responsibilites of his job, Meadows also raised his three children as a single parent.

“I had to be mommy and daddy both to my kids,” he said.

“I was never too good at the mommy part,” he recalled.

“I never could give them all the attention they needed.

“They never used our situation as a crutch or an excuse, but took responsibility for their own lives.

“All three have become great young Christian adults with exemplary moral character and purpose,” he said.

A deeply religious man, Meadows lives his life by Phillipians 4:11, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

He is a man content with his family, with his home, and with the job he has done for the past three decades.

Now that he’s retired, he wants to spend time with his children and his seven grandchildren.

“And I’m a happy fisherman,” Meadows joked, adding he’s going to spend time fishing.

“I’m just going to enjoy myself.

“It’s been quite an adventure and quite an honor.”

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