Kirby Saunders, a 22-year Emergency Management veteran, has been named to lead Orange County Emergency Services, county manager Bonnie Hammersley announced Tuesday.
Saunders has served as Emergency Management Coordinator with Orange County since 2014, overseeing the emergency management division’s mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery operations for all hazards, as well as logistical support functions for the department. He replaces Dinah Jeffries, who earlier this year announced she would retire on Dec. 31, 2020, ending a 37-year career with the county.
“It is an honor to be selected to lead such an incredible agency full of compassionate, dedicated, and knowledgeable professionals,” said Saunders. “I look forward to continuing our accomplishments at Orange County Emergency Services by improving strategic planning, investing in a diverse and prepared team, and implementing creative approaches to balanced growth with a strong emphasis on equity and inclusion.”
“Kirby stood out among all the applicants for his tremendous knowledge and experience and for his familiarity with Orange County,” said Hammersley. “He knows all the public safety leaders in the area and state and will make a seamless transition into his new role.”
In August 2019, Saunders coordinated the search and rescue effort for a Chapel Hill woman suffering from dementia who had wandered away from her home. The effort involved dozens of agencies and nearly 200 volunteers. She was found in relatively good condition in a heavily wooded area near her home in less than three days.
Saunders has frequently deployed to assist in disaster response and recovery efforts in other parts of the country, including a memorable two weeks in Hawaii in 2018 after the Kilauea volcano eruption.
“Deploying to other impacted areas of the state, or country, offers a unique opportunity to learn and further our mission of service,” said Saunders. “With each deployment, we bring back best practices, creative solutions to similar problems, and a larger network of peers willing to assist us should the need arise. In 2019, many of those who came to assist us during the multi-day search were some of the same peers that we had assisted in their times of need. Assisting those in need is a calling, and I am proud that Orange County personnel have always answered the call.”
Before coming to Orange County, Saunders held positions in Halifax County, Va., with the Virginia Department of Health and Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, Va.
“Kirby has made major strides in working with our partners and creating a ‘whole community approach,’” said Jeffries. “He is well prepared to move the department forward, and I rest easy knowing that our ethos and integrity will stay strong under his leadership.”
He began his career in emergency management serving as a paramedic/Field ALS Provider for the Clarksville, Va., rescue squad. He earned a certificate in Emergency Management from Auburn University and an A.S. in Emergency Health Services from Jefferson College in 2004.