Musselshell County’s Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Jeff Gates, who has overseen his share of major natural disasters, is moving on.
Gates said Thursday he is leaving his position to take a job with the state’s Disaster and Emergency Services agency. He will be starting July 14 as the District 4 representative, which oversees counties in southeastern Montana, he said.
The decision wasn’t easy, Gates said on the county’s DES Facebook page, because he enjoyed working with everyone in the community. “An opportunity with the State of Montana DES arose that I could not turn down,” he said.
Gates will remain in Musselshell County. The county will replace his position, he said.
Gates served two stints as the county’s DES coordinator — from 2006 to 2008 and from 2011 until present. When he returned in 2011, it was two days before two major floods hit within 30 days.
“We’ve been kind of trial by fire. Floods and fire and floods and floods. It’s been an interesting career,” Gates said.
“We’ve kind of been on the wrong side of things,” he said.
In 2012, Musselshell County had more than 100 wildfires, including four major fires that burned thousands of acres. The 25,000-acre Dahl fire destroyed 72 homes, he said.
Flooding in 2013 caused about $250,000 in damage to infrastructure in the northern part of the county, Gates said. Flooding this spring caused another $500,000 in damage.
“We’ve had three presidential disaster declarations since 2011,” Gates said.
“Some people are blaming it on me,” he joked.
But all that disaster and emergency services coordinating made him a standout candidate for the state’s District 4 job.
“It was kind of surprising,” said Steve Knecht, deputy administrator for the state DES. “We had a good pool of candidates for that position. With his (Gates’) experience doing what he’s done the last couple of years, he scored so much above everybody else,” he said.
Gates will be overseeing District 4, which is southeastern Montana, a rural part of the state where county DES coordinators are part time, Knecht said.
“Sometimes they need a little more assistance when they have a bad day,” he said.
Gates’ job will be to support local coordinators and counties when disasters strike and to assist as needed, like writing plans, helping with training exercises or trouble shooting during events, Knecht said.
Gates’ experience in working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is “invaluable,” Knecht said. “Not many people get that experience. He can be a real advocate to counties and city government in that district,” he said.
Gates also has built relationships with other agencies that can take two or three years to establish, Knecht said. “I think he’s going to be a fine employee,” he added.