Steve Walters, public health coordinator for the Putnam County Health Department, announced this week that he is resigning from his post and will be taking a new job at the state Department of Homeland Security.
His last day on the job is today, but Walters says he plans to continue living in Putnam County and serving with the Cloverdale Township Vol. Fire Department where he has volunteered for more than 25 years, along with the Putnam County Coroner's office where he acts as an assistant.
"I enjoyed what I was doing here for the health department and I think I've done a lot of good as far as preparing the county for emergencies," Walters said.
The last two-and-a-half years of his career have been spent gathering information and helping prepare the county for a potential outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu.
Just this week, officials in Great Britain ordered the immediate slaughter of thousands of turkeys in an attempt to quell fears of the bird flu continuing its march across western Europe.
Health officials throughout the world continue to insist that the illness affecting fowl from China to Africa is not any closer to making the leap from animal-borne illness to humans.
Back here at home, Walters said he believes the county is much better prepared for the potential disaster now than it was before he started, but that more work is needed.
"There are still a lot of people who need to hear (about the flu)," Walters said.
Throughout the past year or more, Walters has traveled from one end of Putnam County to the other with his message of preparing for the bird flu. Numerous times he has urged city and county leaders, as well as police, fire and medical personnel, to make their plans now, so that if disaster does strike, they'll be better prepared to handle it. He said the county's pandemic flu plan is almost complete.
Walters urged that the planning will go on even in his absence and that the health department will continue to receive updates from federal officials concerning the illness.
"Those efforts will be ongoing," he said.
Walters will work to switch his focus from disaster planning to firefighter training as he takes charge of a newly revamped branch of the Homeland Security Department.
The Firefighter Training System is responsible for seeing that emergency responders in each of the state's nine districts are properly trained under a uniform set of standards.
Walters, who will take an administrative position, will be responsible for working with officials in those nine districts and will coordinate the training programs for emergency responders.
"Basically we'll be using the courses that are already out there and standardizing the training that firefighters get," Walters said.
This includes Firefighter I and Firefighter II courses, instructional courses, investigators and hazardous materials training, to name a few.
Walters said that many of these courses were offered previously, but the difference is that Homeland Security may be able to provide better options for firefighters to participate in these training programs as well as the potential for more funding to do it.