Bellingham hires new emergency management coordinator from Midwest

The city has hired Paul Gazdik, a young emergency manager from the Midwest, to serve as Bellingham’s new emergency management coordinator.

Gazdik, who turned 29 a week ago, is currently emergency management director for Brown County, Wis., where Green Bay is located.

In mid-May he will fill the spot currently held by interim coordinator Roger Christensen, who put off retirement to temporarily hold the job until the city could find the right person.

Gazdik will make $81,156 per year, and get the standard city benefits package, said Bill Hewett, assistant fire chief for Bellingham Fire Department.

The emergency management coordinator runs the city’s Office of Emergency Management, helping plan for disasters and making sure emergency policies and plans are updated regularly.

The office is located at the Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center and partners with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management to plan for countywide emergencies.

“I want to thank Roger for delaying his retirement to step in when we really needed this help,” Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said in an announcement. “I met with Paul before he was hired and was impressed with his enthusiasm for the work and his experience, and we’re glad to be bringing him to our emergency management team.”

Gazdik has worked with Brown County’s emergency management for seven years, moving up from an intern position to emergency management coordinator, then director.

During his time there, he helped bring the department into the digital age with a few social media accounts, including the Preparedness Penguin, a stuffed animal personality that tweets about emergency preparedness.

“One of the things we learned was when you’re trying to get people aware of hazards, you want to go where they’re communicating, and social media is the obvious path,” Gazdik said. “People understand what police and fire do, but emergency management kind of gets lost in the shuffle. ... (Preparedness Penguin) is a good way to engage people in a fun, cute way, on what to do and how to prepare, as opposed to sending out generic press releases or PDF files full of words.”

Hewett said the hiring committee was very impressed by a campaign Gazdik ran called “ Do 1 Thing.”

“They really focused on helping everybody look for one thing they could do this month to be better prepared for a disaster in the future,” Hewett said. “It’s that kind of grassroots outreach campaign we’re looking forward to.”

Gazdik said he is excited to move to the Pacific Northwest and work with Christensen as he transitions into the role.