Jeff Hutchins, better known by his peers as simply ‘Hutch,’ is a giant of a man with a truly giant of a job — Director of Public Safety for Lycoming County. This entire article could be filled up with just describing the responsibilities that fall under his watch. His vast area of responsibility is absolutely mind-boggling.
For starters, the Director of Public Safety has the task of overseeing the 9-1-1 communication system, emergency management, and hazard material for the county, and oversight of the tri-county council for EMS services. That last responsibility is a council that includes Lycoming, Sullivan, and Tioga councils and provides training and licensure for EMS personnel and emergency equipment.
His office must assist all the local emergency management coordinators throughout the county, ensuring their plans are updated and compliant.
Since the greatest natural disaster threat in Pennsylvania is from rivers and streams, stream gauges are checked daily, and this data must be carefully monitored.
All of these tasks are secondary to the number one responsibility of maintaining and monitoring the 9-1-1 emergency communications system. Besides the task of staffing and training required for this agency, it is always necessary to consistently upgrade the technology. Currently, they are undergoing a multi-year upgrade to the Public Safety Radio System.
And note, these and many other preparatory activities are just the “blue sky” days when there are no emergencies. When something disastrous actually does happen, well, that is when all the preparations and planning had better work, or many people will suffer badly.
If ever a man was made for the job, Hutch is the man. Born in Williamsport but growing up in Unityville, his family moved to Hughesville, where he graduated from high school. A public servant, even in his youth, he was an active member of the Unityville and Hughesville fire companies. After high school, he went to what was then Williamsport Hospital (now UPMC) to become a paramedic. He served as a paramedic from 1997-2000, where he then became a paramedic captain from 2000 to 2007 and a paramedic supervisor from 2007-2020. In addition, he was employed as a 9-1-1 dispatcher from 1999 to 2004, returning in 2012. Somehow, he still found time to be a volunteer firefighter with the Montgomery Fire Company from 2000-2004 and then the Montoursville Fire Company in 2004 to present day, where he is deputy chief.
So, in 2020 when John Yingling was retiring as Lycoming County’s Public Safety Director, it was obvious a better successor couldn’t be found who not only understood, but had worked in every aspect of public safety in Lycoming County. The county commissioners wisely chose him, and on February 23, 2020, Jeff ‘Hutch’ Hutchins officially took on the title of Public Safety Director for Lycoming County.
Then, less than three weeks into his job — March 13, 2020 — Governor Wolf declared his emergency and thus began the great COVID shutdown. Nothing this vast was in the emergency planning, so brand new-on-the-job, Hutch and his team had to wing it.
It started with the question of making the Public Safety Headquarters on County Farm Road in Montoursville a shelter. There were no guidelines from the state (and PEMA was little to no help), so Hutch took the reins on acquiring shower trailers and sleeping quarters just in case they were needed. There was so much confusion because no one could determine exactly what this was — a public health disaster or an emergency? One is governed by the Department of Health and the other by PEMA. Sometimes instructions from Harrisburg paralleled, and other times they contradicted. Hutch had to keep the rudder straight.
Just when it seemed that things could not get any worse, a white supremacist group decided to hold a demonstration in a Williamsport park in July 2020, which required local, state, and federal officials to coordinate together in a way that went so smoothly, it is now held up as a model on how this should be done. And Hutch was right in the middle of it all.
It would take volumes to describe the amazing job of keeping the plates spinning on their poles from endless projects while factoring in a COVID gripped society. Beyond the daily work itself, there is an incalculable amount of planning that goes on behind the scenes every single day, coordinating with all levels of government, constantly reviewing and refreshing those plans in preparation for an emergency. They are continually looking at flood readiness, hazardous materials, and the status of our emergency providers, to name a few. Then, there are the major events that need special attention, such as the Little League World Series, Grand Slam Parade, MLB Classic, and such, thrown into the mix.
It is a 24/7, 365-day burden of vigilance and readiness. It makes someone like me tired just thinking about it all, yet this is what Hutch wakes up to every single morning of every single day. A very modest and yet giant of a man with a giant job, a true LION – a Leader in Our Neighborhood — Jeffrey L. Hutchins. Or, as he would say, “just call me Hutch.”1 comment