EXETER – Andrew Treat spent 18 months at Franklin Pierce University, in New Hampshire, before deciding he needed a change.
“I left to find myself,” says the 22-year-old Cranston native who grew up in East Greenwich and graduated from East Greenwich High School. After majoring in radio broadcasting and information technology, it turned out that his true calling was as a first responder.
“In college, they’d started a volunteer fire department on campus. I hadn’t thought of that but one of my roommates mentioned it and said ‘Wow, this is really cool!’”
Andrew signed on, he declares, and “grew to love it.”
The summer after his first year at Franklin Pierce, he joined the Exeter Volunteer Fire Department, Station 1. He returned to school, leaving in winter of 2008 to go on academic leave. He continued volunteering as, among other things, an EMT, and, gradually, began to discover his place in the grand scheme of things.
“I wanted something in public safety. It’s what I really, really want to do; this is where I was meant to be.”
Andrew went through a computer systems course and, last January, landed a job as a part-time dispatcher for Exeter. During that time, Stefan Coutoulakis, the town’s emergency management director was in and out of the command center, often stopping to chat.
“I’m a total geek; I talked to him a lot” about systems and response. “Stefan got approval to hire an assistant. We talked and it sounded like something I’d be interested in. I applied, he called and appointed me. I was thrilled.”
He has become Coutoulakis’ right-hand man and, according to his boss, is all but indispensible. As he told the town council at a recent work session, everywhere he goes other professionals are singing Andrew’s praises.
Much of it stems from an ICS [Incident Command System] conference at Quonset which Andrew attended, attracting the attention of the folks in charge.
“The class manager noticed how well I interacted and presented the mini assignments we were given. I loved the class. There were cops, fire, doctors, nurses and emergency management people. I flourished.”
There have been many signs that life was pointing Andrew in this direction.
He rose through the ranks of Boy Scouting, becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest honor. For his Eagle project, he fireproofed the entire boiler room at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and brought it up to code.
To supplement the stipend he receives from the town, Andrew works as a security guard at Senesco Marine, the shipbuilding and repair company located at Quonset Point.
“Seeing all the stuff at Quonset Point is amazing,” he notes. “I like being part of it.”
As assistant emergency management director, Andrew’s first project was acquiring five GPS units to distribute among public safety departments and providing training. Unlike car models that talk and tell you where to turn on streets and roads, these units give precise co-ordinates that direct responders in a straight line. They have to figure out how best to get to the place they’re needed.
“I came up with a training drill on how to use them,” Andrew explains. The Exeter 1 station hosted two separate classes lasting half-hour to 45 minutes. They were attended by firefighters, rescue personnel and “everyone who goes on the truck.”
Andrew recalls, “We went to the old Ladd campus where I had set out a 20-point course. The class separated into four groups. They had 90 minutes to get to as many locations as possible [using the GPS units]. We used the statewide radio system, dispatch. They input information and followed the coordinates.”
Next, he sought bids for cell phones that provide Stefan and himself “critical updates about weather and state resources and [allow them to] hook the cells to the laptops.”
He chose AT&T Blackberries and says, “Now we can communicate with the state emergency organizations.”
While others commend him, Andrew stays grounded.
“I’m still a young kid. I don’t want to seem cocky. I do the tasks [as Stefan’s assistant] but then step back and observe. I do the job but I’m still learning so I can do it better.”
So what happens if Stefan is away and a blizzard hits? Andrew is in charge.
With quiet confidence he says, “I contact the fire chiefs, the town government, the state and I start documenting and making sure everyone has what they need – generators, heat, potable water. I make sure the residents know what’s coming. Some families are very isolated and their roads [frequently] get washed out. I look at mutual aid.”
Although he insists his role was small in updating the town’s emergency operations plan, his technological expertise allowed him to help flesh out the communications attachment that links the town with outside agencies.
Andrew’s goal is to obtain a degree in emergency management or occupational health and safety. He’s also moving to Dry Bridge Road, off South County Trail, near the Exeter town line.
“I’ve taken a liking to the town,” he says. “It’s a great place to grow and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. I’m proud to serve the people of Exeter.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .