EMA director Jim Burrough announces his retirement

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Jim Burrough, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency for the last 11 years officially announced his retirement Monday. However, Burrough said he will remain on the payroll until July.
   "I haven't had an uninterrupted vacation since 1997. I have 58 vacation days and I have a bunch of comp time built up," he said. Burrough plans to use the saved time until his retirement becomes effective in July.
   Carter County Executive Dale Fair was informed of Burrough's decision Friday.
   Asked what prompted his decision, Burrough said he was eligible to retire at 55 and has actually worked two years longer than necessary. He said he found out Friday what his retirement benefits would be, and since the only bill he owes is a monthly water bill, he decided that he could live on his pension, "so that's what I'm going to do," he said.
   Fair said Burrough had enough time built up to get through the fiscal year with vacation and comp time. Fair said he met Monday morning with first responders, including Renee Bowers of the EMA office. "We're going to get adjusted to it for a day or two, and then we're going to look at someone on an interim basis," Fair said.
   Fair also praised Burrough. "When I got here there wasn't an OSHA director. I transferred that and some of the budget over to him. He's been instrumental putting together all of our first responders into a good organization. I have nothing but good to say about Jim."
   David Nichols, president of the Carter County Firefighters Association, said Burrough will be missed.
   "He did a lot of things equipment-wise: purchasing equipment, obtaining grants for us, and so forth. But the number one thing that people should understand that Jim did is he kept calling those meetings which forced us to sit down beside each other and talk -- which is greatly responsible for the amount of cooperation that exists today between emergency services agencies in this county," Nichols said.
   "Those meetings in conjunction with the flood, and the blizzard, and the North American fire taught us that we had to work together to get anywhere," Nichols said.
   When Burrough took over the EMA office, "there was one ham radio with a homemade antennae." He has since built up an entire room to handle local emergency situations and has obtained numerous grants to assist first responders -- purchasing security cameras and bomb vests for the Elizabethton Police Department and gas masks for the city fire department, to name a few.
   "I feel that I've done my job," he said. Now, at 57, Burrough thinks it's time to start enjoying life. He said he and his wife both have reasonably good health, "and I'm not working until I get 65, broke down, and then don't want to do anything.
   "The last time I tried to vacate, it started raining. The week I was supposed to be off, I worked Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; took off Tuesday; FEMA came in and I had to work Wednesday and Thursday; and then I took off Friday. You can't vacate, you can't enjoy life, and you can't go places," he said.
   Burrough's mother died in 1998. When they called him from the hospital, he was on Doe River working for the public as floodwaters rose. He couldn't leave. Six days later, his brother died. Burrough was on Iron Mountain, searching for helicopter crash victims.
   "My life in the last 11 years has been built around other people's miseries. When other people are having their bad luck, that's when I'm right there really getting it. That's bad. It gets to you," he said.
   Now, he'd just like to "gracefully walk off." He and his wife plan to do some camping, and, he said, "I've got a little farm here and I'd like to have it looking about as sharp as any place in the community. You can't do that running up and down the road."
   Burrough was a member of the local, regional, and the state health councils as well as a member of the 9-1-1 board, and a deputy coroner. He says he plans to continue his coroner duties as well as his work with 9-1-1.
   "The only thing that I'm giving up is the job that's got me on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," he said.