WEST GROVE >> “Who you gonna call?” is a question folks ask when the sky starts falling down around them. And in southern Chester County that answer is often “Chuck Freese.”
Freese, 61, of Penn is the emergency management coordinator for six municipalities including Penn, West Grove, Londonderry, Upper Oxford, London Grove and London Britain.
In that capacity he plans for future crises and responds to the ones that pop up out of a moment.
That’s been the life for Freese, who last month celebrated 30 years as West Grove’s emergency management coordinator — the first place he took the position. The others have been added in the intervening years.
Freese is a lifelong West Grove area resident, having grown up locally, attended Avon Grove schools, and maintained his business, FreCom, along Baltimore Pike in Penn. He founded FreeCom in 1983, a company that sells two-way radios, pagers, walkie-talkies and cell phones. He said he has a particular liking for the two-way radios because they are used by emergency responders and are capable of sending out messages back and forth to large groups of people at once, as in the instance of a fire or disaster.
Concerning his EMC job, he said municipalities historically created the roles of emergency managers in the late 1980s, as the job of civil defense coordinators was diminishing. It is a federally mandated position for all towns.
When West Grove put out the first call for its coordinator, he responded and has held that post ever since. After that, when other townships positions opened up, he made himself available to them as well.
“I enjoy it, and I feel I have the support of the municipalities,” he said.
In his capacity as the municipal emergency management coordinator, Freese oversees the preparations that agencies and municipalities make to stay safe.
This role is vital and changing as the nation faces an increasing number of disasters and domestic attacks, he said.
He cited several incidents nationwide that have shaped the position he holds.
One of them was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Another was the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting in 1999.
Still another was the Aug. 2011 East Coast earthquake that practically disabled the cellular phone networks from simple overuse and emphasized the need for alternate communication during emergencies.
For Freese in southern Chester County, the arrival of an ice storm, a sink hole, a flood or an unexpected need to evacuate a crowd sends him into action.
He’s the one who has prepared evacuation procedures, procurement of supplies and contact with agencies that are available to help.
He gave one example of a local family whose member died at home during a winter storm. It was up to Freese to arrange to have the person’s body taken to the funeral home through difficult — if not impossible — road conditions.
Another task he has to do is arrange reachable destinations for people who have been displaced by calamities, not to mention obtaining basic needs like arranging for portable toilets on the scene.
All this is on top of the meetings he has with local entities to help them design their own safety systems.
Freese works also closely with municipal managers like West Grove’s Greg McCummings, who spoke this week about his appreciation for the role of the emergency manager. Together they oversee the maintenance and operations of the West Grove pull behind trailer, which provides a mobile command post, radio communication in a crisis and the place for leaders to meet in the fly.
McCummings said they also depend on Freese to plan for the safety of large gatherings in town like the annual Night Out in August, among other things.
Freese is reappointed to his EMC post every year — this past March for the 30th time in West Grove.
“We’ve had a good relationship with him for the past 30 years; we want to keep him,” MuCummings said.
The occasion of his 30th West Grove appointment last month came and went uncelebrated in large part because the unusual weather cancelled and disrupted so many meetings and events.
Still, as Freese and McCummings discussed a tardy marking the date, McCummings surmised, “Maybe a cake.”