Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

After 13 years coordinating all things related to local emergency management, Cindy Henderson is stepping down from her position as the county’s emergency services manager.

Henderson said that after four to five years of working 88 to 100 hours a week at two jobs, it’s time to reprioritize.

“I’ve also had some friends my age who have had medical issues and that has really brought it home,” Henderson said. “I just want to spend more time with my family and friends.”

One of her jobs has been as a flight medic for Cal-Ore Life Flight air ambulance, which she will continue.

“I feel really good about this,” she said. “I don’t feel like I am letting the county down. I believe we have a good partnership and it will continue to grow.”

Henderson said she plans to stay involved and will help with the transfer to a new emergency services manager. She said the most valuable quality to look for in a new manager will be that they are passionate and can bring knowledgeable people to the table when needed.

“I’m confident we’ll find that person,” she said.

Asked if she has anyone in mind who would be suited for the role, she said she does not and will have to see who makes it through

Henderson will continue as a paramedic, as she has for for 31 years.

Her husband Grant is a commander at the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and they have two adopted kids.

“I feel my priorities should be my health, family and well being,” she said.

Asked if she has any plans for Halloween, essentially her last day, she laughed, “Probably just taking the kids trick or treating...”

County CAO Jay Sarina serves as the Office of Emergency Services director for the county, and Assistant CAO Niel Lopez will fill the position if there is a gap in management after Henderson’s last day.

“If we have emergency needs in that time, the state can assist us with people,” Sarina said. “We have that covered.”

Sarina said the county has already started the recruitment process and a job description will appear in area publications, as well as a wider range of advertising.

He said the process typically takes two to four weeks, management positions a bit longer.

“With her resignation date less than a month away, it may go longer,” Sarina said, after noting he will make the final decision in the recruitment process. Asked for the number one quality a candidate must possess, Sarina didn’t hesitate.

“People skills,” he said, noting the new emergency services manager will need to collaborate with local, state and federal agencies, as well as department heads, elected officials, employees, agency boards, local tribes and more.

“They’ll need the ability to constantly learn and be able to collaborate and coordinate,” Sarina said. “It’s a huge part of that job.”

Sarina said there will be no gap in emergency service and response, as there are people and protocols ready.

As for Henderson’s new direction, Sarina said, “It will be a loss of someone who has done an excellent job bringing a high level of emergency services and who has been instrumental in emergencies we’ve already had. That’s a huge loss and we’ll have to deal with it the best we can.”

Big shoes

“This community was very fortunate to have Cindy as our Emergency Service Manager for over 12 years,” said City Manager Eric Wier. “She was the right person, in the right job, at the right time. Emergency management has been very dynamic during her tenure and she has kept us on the cutting edge... her team transformed the Del Norte County’s OES and has put this community in a spot where we are one most prepared rural communities in the country. This was verified for me first hand when I was a part of the team of over 50 Del Norte EOC team members that she led to Emmitsburg, Maryland for a National Incident Management training. The week-long training was taught by National Emergency Managers and subject matter experts from all over the country. At the end of the training, after an intense simulation drill, they reiterated that our community should be proud of our OES team and that we are one of the most prepared rural communities that they have seen. Cindy was the driving force behind that team.”

Wier said he has worked with Henderson several times in various emergencies over the last decade.

“She was a true leader in emergency situations. She has the great ability and undeniable passion to bring diverse groups of volunteers, multiple government agencies, and subject matter experts together. This is not easy in any situation, but especially difficult in a stressful emergency situation. Through the organized trainings that she led or facilitated and actual emergency experiences, she has instilled unity and confidence in our EOC team,” Wier said. “I was saddened to hear Cindy will be stepping down, however, I am confident in the team she has helped build and know that our EOC team will continue to grow and improve based on the strong foundation that she built.”

Kymmie Scott, emergency service manager for the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, said when most people in Del Norte think about disasters, they tend to think about earthquakes and tsunamis, but said those are just a few of the many potential scenarios Henderson was ready to handle.

Scott said she’s admired Henderson for her ability to deal with two full-time jobs and her husband’s occupational stresses, while still managing to find time to raise two kids, exercise and find time for herself.

“Her ability to find balance in her work and life? She nails it,” Scott said. “This latest move in her life is an example of that.”

Scott praised Henderson for her ability to bring people from all aspects of emergency response together in planning drills and get them to truly collaborate and work together.

“Those are going to be the biggest shoes to fill,” Scott said. “I hope the county does a good job in recruiting a replacement for that position, but it’s going to be damn near impossible to replace her.”

Scott also said Henderson’s retirement will be a loss felt by the Tolowa Dee-ni’.