COMMITMENT TO EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
By Gary Fletcher
Observer Staff Writer
ENTERPRISE Hunting season used to be the busiest time of year for the Wallowa County Sheriff's Search and Rescue unit.
This fall, however, S&R coordinator Matthew Marmor has been busier receiving accolades and awards than reports of overdue, lost or injured hunters.
This father of three recently was named the state's Outstanding Emergency Program Manager for a rural area. The award cited his leadership and commitment to the field of emergency management.
"Matthew has continued to display both his knowledge and his dedication to the field of emergency management," said Mike Hayward, Wallowa County Commission chairman and director of emergency services. "The level of service is recognized not only in our county but throughout the state. He has a passion for the job."
Marmor was also awarded a certificate of achievement for his part in coordinating a foot and mouth disease exercise with agencies from several area counties.
And if that's not enough, Marmor was also recently honored with a certificate from the National Weather Service for his leadership in helping make Wallowa County Oregon's first "Storm Ready" county. The program helps local emergency management officials disseminate severe weather warnings to local towns and agencies.
Works in quiet fashion
Much of Marmor's work is quiet and behind-the-scenes.
"While the award is really an honor, it actually reflects a commitment by the people in this county and the quality of the team working for the county and doing an excellent job for the community," Marmor said.
"The best plans would come to nothing without the people who are vital to carrying them out. I really appreciate the countless hours and sacrifices people make.
"The real heroes are the volunteers on the front lines. ... I'm the one you get ahold of, but they go and do."
Marmor's primary duty is administration of the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant, a cost-sharing program with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the county to continue to upgrade the emergency management plan. He conducts exercises to test it, to be sure it is up to date and accurate. Wallowa County's plan, adopted in 1986, was one of the first in the state an example for others.
Marmor also documents county disasters, including agricultural drought and frost damage. He too, is the contact person for local citizens. His office is like a clearinghouse to get people in touch with the appropriate agency or department.
He does follow-up work with state and federal agencies, such as for the federal disaster declaration for the 1997 flooding at Imnaha and other places. It took three years to close that. In the meantime, Joseph suffered significant damage from the 1998 Thanksgiving Day wind storm.
Not all desk work
Labor Day 1999 found Marmor and his wife, Dawn, on a four-person rope team, in bad weather rescuing a shaking hiker that had been clinging five hours on a cliff ledge above Deadman's Creek.
The previous day, by horseback, an S&R team brought an injured hiker down the steep trail from Echo Lake.
Training is integral to Marmor's responsibilities. He tracks the 20 hours of required annual training of the 28 search and rescue members. It ranges from helicopter safety to winter survival skills and swift water rescue of which he serves on the team.
Marmor typically receives more than 100 hours of annual training regarding federal and state acts important to emergency management.
On his wall-wide calendar he's scheduled in months ahead for an opportunity in John Day to address domestic preparedness.
Later, in Washington County he'll teach search operations management. He recently received a certificate of appreciation for serving five years as an instructor for the Oregon Emergency Management Training Program.
Marmor was invited to speak about search and rescue in Oregon at the United Kingdom 2002 Mountain Rescue Conference in Manchester.
As chairman of the Oregon State Search and Rescue Advisory Council to the state sheriffs association, he represented that body at the international forum, attended by 550.
"The British have quite a history of mountain rescue. It started in the late 1930s,'' Marmor said. "I came away with a sense of how similar the endeavor is in both countries."
Marmor walked 12 miles through the moors with the Kinder Mountain Rescue Team of Hayfield, England.
They were in the Peak District some 550 square miles in the center of England. The park is about the size of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon's largest.
"It was amazing," he said "You could sink up to your knees."
They were in a 40 mph "breeze" that swept in fog that obscured the area to the point is all looked the same flat in all directions.
But the area, at about 1,000 feet in elevation, is not all level. It is rudely interrupted by a 1,000-foot ridge, scarred by 64 airplane crashes that occurred between World War II and the 1960s. The team followed debris trails of B-17 and B-24 bombers and two British jet fighters that were apparently unprepared for the sudden elevation change.
Similarities Back Home
Marmor has responded to aircraft crashes in the Wallowas. In June 1999, he coordinated an S&R team to assist in recovery of two Civil Air Patrol pilots' bodies near Red's Horse Ranch. A story the following April had a better ending. Two men walked away from a crash near a remote landing strip north of Promise.
Marmor has been in charge of emergency management since 1996, when the late sheriff Roger Decker passed the baton to him.
Since then, Marmor has juggled his emergency management responsibilities with his law enforcement duties. On July 1, he became the full-time manager of the Emergency Management Program established in 1976.
Marmor had started in 1993 as a county corrections deputy. Prior to that he worked five years for the U.S. Forest Service between Idaho's Nez Perce and Oregon's Wallowa-Whitman national forests. He holds a resource management degree from the State University of New York.
Phone Booth Library
It has been said that Wallowa County would be as big as Texas "if all the wrinkles were ironed out."
The emergency response for all that wide-open space is coordinated from Marmor's small, cramped office, tucked away in the courthouse basement. The space is stacked to the ceiling and bulging with information. Its tight fit feels like a library crammed into a phone booth.
Information is key, said Marmor. Triaging incoming data, he sorts some 20 e-mails a day on his computer. "Disaster Preparedness" has been the latest hot topic since 9/11.
Marmor, though, is not restricted to a cubby hole. With the modern technology of his palm pilot, a cell phone and a calling card, he can direct an emergency response from any location.