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Paul Wagner remembered as friend to firefighters, driving force behind emergency radio upgrades

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 June 2019 at 5:16 pm

‘He lived and breathed public safety in Orleans County. That was all he thought about.’

Photo by Tom Rivers: Paul Wagner, the former county emergency management director, is shown on May 28, 2014 when the county celebrated a $7.1 million overhaul to its emergency radio communications system. Wagner is pointing to a rack that transmits signals from the radio towers to the consoles and the radios.

CLARENDON – Paul Wagner handled many emergency situations in his career, from major weather events to massive fires.

Wagner did it all in a laid-back manner. He didn’t get ruffled and his calm demeanor helped other people keep their cool in some difficult circumstances.

Wagner, 73, died on June 21. He served as director of the Orleans County Emergency Management Office for 14 years, until retiring on July 18, 2014.

“He didn’t get all bent out of shape,” said Pat Eick, who worked as secretary for Wagner in the two-person office on County House Road. “Paul was very calm and easygoing. He was a great man to work for. He was very much respected.”

Wagner spent more than 50 years in the fire service. He started working for the county as a deputy fire coordinator in 1979. He became EMO-1 on July 3, 2000.

The initially was focused on coordinating services and training with fire departments and EMS providers, but grew to emergency preparedness with big weather events and the possibilities of terrorist attacks.

The office also administers the emergency radio communications system. Wagner pushed through a $7.1 million upgrade.

“He was essential with the new emergency communications system,” said Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature. “Public safety was his number one concern. He lived and breathed public safety in Orleans County. That was all he thought about.”

Wagner was highly regarded by firefighters, EMTs and all the first responders in the county, she said.

“He’ll be missed throughout the ranks,” she said. “He had a leadership quality that spanned all the ranks.”

Wagner retired as a chemist from Kodak and then worked full-time as the director of the Emergency Management Office. He joined the Shelby Fire Department when he was 18. When he moved to Clarendon, he joined that department and eventually became Clarendon’s fire chief.

Dale Banker followed Wagner as EMO-1 for the county and has worked in the job for nearly 5 years. Banker said it is a demanding position, with lots of coordinating among local, state and federal agencies.

He praised Wagner for pushing through the $7.1 million upgrade of the radio system.

“That was a monumental task,” Banker said.

The county is working on another $6 million upgrade of the system to improve coverage in the county and have interoperability with neighboring counties.

Wagner also was successful in advancing the county’s fire investigation unit and he established the firefighter accountability system at a fire scene, Banker said. Firefighters’ tags are kept at a fire scene when a firefighter goes inside a structure. Fire officials keep track of who goes in and comes out.

“He was a people-person,” Banker said. “He was very easygoing and he got along with everybody.”

Wagner’s memorial service will be at 2 p.m. on July 6 at the Clarendon Fire Department Recreation Building, 16169 E. Lee Road, Holley.

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