GREENFIELD — Sitting in Larry Ervin’s office, just behind the desk, is a framed photo of a tornado touching down near CR 300N.
The snapshot from 1998 serves as a small reminder of the many disasters Ervin has seen and helped Hancock County residents cope with throughout his tenure as the county’s emergency management director. That tenure has now come to an end after 19 years.
Ervin has always had a heart for helping others. He received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University in 1979 and served 16 years as a reserve sheriff’s deputy. He would go on to try his hand at another side of public safety – firefighting.
This week, Ervin is also stepping down from his full-time position as an Indianapolis Fire Department firefighter, a job he’s had since 1984.
Ervin has worked to juggle his responsibilities as a firefighter and emergency management director.
The county’s emergency management director is a part-time position, but Ervin said his duties were only as predictable as the Indiana weather.
“It is a full-time, part-time job,” Ervin said. “There are days that can be rather long, especially if something happens like a storm or a tornado – even a crash on the interstate.”
The emergency management department is perhaps best known for responding to inclement weather, but its paid staff and volunteers can also be dispatched for other emergencies. A crash involving a sizeable fuel or hazardous materials spill, for example, could necessitate intervention from the team.
No two days have ever been the same, which is part of what Ervin said he has enjoyed about the position he’s held for nearly two decades.
“That makes it almost kind of like a lifelong learning experience,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is wait till the next day, and it’s going to be another learning experience. There’s always new challenges, new occurrences, new threats that you’ve got to learn how to deal with and how to plan for, and that’s part of the excitement of public safety.”
Those who have worked with Ervin say he excelled at keeping all the public safety agencies informed and working together to meet a common goal.
“As an information source, I think he’s invaluable,” Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester said.
Jester said whenever the county faced an emergency, Ervin kept all facets of public safety connected and in the loop about what steps needed to be taken and when.
He also served as a liaison between local and outside agencies when it came time to evaluate whether the county qualified for state or federal aid.
“I think we as a county are going to miss out because Larry’s going to retire with a lot of knowledge,” Jester said.
The office has undergone several significant changes since Larry took the reins.
When he first started, the office was in the basement of the Greenfield Police Department. Today, Ervin oversees an entire emergency operations center based in a freestanding building that also houses the county’s 911 dispatch services.
The EOC is fully equipped to serve as a command center in the event of a large-scale emergency.
“Is there room for improvement? Sure. But we are so much further ahead now than where we were,” Ervin said.
Ervin has also made several significant changes to the office during his tenure.
He increased the size of the county’s corps of volunteers and also played a key role in the development of a Community Organizations Active in Disasters group, which networks with individuals and businesses with response capabilities to streamline aid in an emergency.
Sheriff Mike Shepherd said it’s hard to point to just one thing that made Ervin such an asset to the county.
“I just know that he’s been great to work with,” he said. “I really consider him a friend as much as anything over the years. I think he really has a passion for that job. I think his years in public safety obviously fueled that passion. I really hate to see him leave.”
Ervin’s cool head under pressure was especially evident last winter, when the county went on emergency travel status because of the ice and snow, Shepherd said.
“Last winter was a great test for emergency management and everyone, and he was always keeping in contact,” Shepherd said.
Ervin’s wife, Diane, also retired recently, and the pair is looking forward to spending more time together with their five children and five grandchildren.
“Lots of camping, being in the woods,” Ervin said. “Not answering three-o’clock-in-the-morning phone calls anymore.”
Ervin said he’ll miss networking with public safety agencies in Hancock County. Local officials don’t receive enough credit for the hard work they do, he said.
“We’ve got some really good people in Hancock County,” he said. “There’s so many things that go on behind the scenes that the public never hears about, never sees. People don’t realize what goes on on a daily basis to try to keep them safe.”