New Emergency Manager Preparing Orange County to Meet All Public Safety Challenges
When Lauraleigh Avery was appointed Orange County Emergency Manager by Mayor Jerry L. Demings on June 2, 2020, it had historic overtones. She is the first woman to hold the position, as well as the first firefighter.
She is also taking over the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EOC has been activated for over 110 days, which is a record.
Our essential support function personnel have had over three months of continuous on-the-job training,” Avery explained. “We’ve been able to get new people qualified and have never been more prepared for hurricane season.”
A 27-year veteran of the department, Avery has served as Assistant Fire Chief for Operations for Orange County Fire Rescue Department (OCFR) the past seven years, and rose through the department ranks from Firefighter to Assistant Chief to her new post.
Avery believes in training, hard work and commitment, as well as the fact that anything is possible when someone sets their mind to it. She credits her mother, Marguerite Rapp, with instilling this in her and being an amazing role model.
“She was a single mom who worked for the Maitland Fire Department for 32 years,” she said. “I was going into work with her from the time I was 8 years old, so the fire department was family. They were always there for us.”
Encouraged to become a firefighter, Avery decided it was the career she wanted, and the Maitland Fire Department sponsored her when she went through fire school.
“I fell in love with the service,” she said. “I always wanted to do something to give back and realized this is how I wanted to do it.”
Honored to be the first female emergency manager in Orange County, she is excited to lead the way for other women. For her success, she credits her mentors, especially OCFR Division Chief of Operations Mike Wajda, who took her under his wing when she was Assistant Chief of Operations.
“He included me in everything,” she said. “As leaders, our job is to teach team members everything and share our knowledge so when we step out, they can step in.”
Her goal for the Office of Emergency Management is to continue to develop strong relationships with partners throughout the community, as well as educate the community so everyone sees them as a resource.
“Most people think the only thing we do is prepare for hurricanes, but we also have to prepare for tornadoes, active shooters and pandemics,” she stressed. “This year has taught us we need to be prepared for anything and work together as a community to get through challenging times.”
Photo caption: Chief Lauraleigh Avery at Orange County’s Emergency Operations Center
Learn more in this edition of OCFL Update.