BURLINGTON, Vt. -- After growing up in Barre, Rich Quinlan usually tries to get back for the town's homecoming festival, an annual opportunity to reconnect with friends and family.
This year's visit is not his favorite way to return.
Working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the last 24 years, Quinlan has served during many administrations but now he is back as the Deputy in charge of the disaster recovery operation here after this spring's storms and flooding. Quinlan has worked in 26 disasters in his home state, including 1989's ice storm, and in almost every major disaster nationwide, including the California Northridge Earthquake, the Midwest Floods of 1993 and Hurricane Katrina.
"I hate coming home this way," he says. "But at the same time I'm glad to be in a place where the locals know I'm one of them. I know the rivers, streams, towns and culture. It's neighbor helping neighbor."
As a former champion college hockey player -- he played left wing for the North Adams State Mohawks in Massachusetts -- Quinlan loves to keep stats. During his FEMA career as a State Liaison Officer, Vermont claims a 100 percent success rate for its declaration requests to the President. Quinlan credits a great partnership with the state for this success and a well-versed knowledge of the Stafford Act, the legislation sponsored by Vermont's own senator, Robert T. Stafford, which authorizes federal disaster funds to be administered for major disasters.
"To get declarations approved, you have to tell a story," says Quinlan. "My role is to follow the Stafford Act, and record certain specifications and conditions. It's all checks and balances. We don't want the state to miss anything so we work together to be sure we make the case." As a result, Vermont has received over $65 million in federal disaster aid since Quinlan joined the agency in 1987.
So far, 1,538 people have registered for FEMA assistance for the 2011 spring floods. Of this total, 320 have registered in Washington County. And over $3 million has been approved for housing assistance, other needs and U.S. Small Business Assistance loans in Vermont.
Quinlan says his experience playing hockey also taught him discipline, passion and commitment, attributes that certainly translate to his FEMA work. "Everybody counts and the way to operate is as a team," he says.
It was Quinlan's father, Bob Quinlan, the lead off-site planner for Vermont Emergency Management, who both inspired him -- and paved the way -- for his emergency management career. "He'd bring me along sometimes and I'd watch him in action meeting with cities and towns. It didn't matter whether they liked the Vermont Yankee Power plant, but he'd prove to them that off-site planning was important. He'd turn people around in one hour. He was so happy."
After Quinlan graduated from college in 1987, his dad had lined up interviews for him with four federal agencies. After taking the bus to Boston one morning, his last interview ended a little after noon. He called home on a pay phone and his mother told him he was hired and would start work for FEMA that Monday.
That weekend he moved to Gloucester, Mass. to live with his girlfriend (now his wife of 22 years) and now in-laws and took the commuter rail into Boston where his office is still based. "Here I was a farm boy from Vermont -- welcome to the big city," he says.
"Gloucester is a working class town like Barre," adds Quinlan. "People put their lives on the line every day -- as fisherman and granite workers. And if I had to leave the mountains, at least I am able to live by the ocean. I have the best of both worlds and friends in both places.
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