Park City taps Navy veteran to guard against wildfires, terrorists
Mike McComb would be one of the key City Hall figures to respond to a wildfire in Park City.
As well as a flood, an earthquake or an act of terrorism.
McComb recently became Park City’s second-ever emergency program manager, succeeding the retired Hugh Daniels. It is a position that oftentimes works in the background and with little publicity. Working directly for the Park City manager and based at the Park Avenue police station, McComb is assigned a range of duties meant to protect Parkites on an everyday basis and, if there is an emergency, ensure the municipal government is ready to respond.
He started at City Hall as a volunteer intern working with Daniels in November of 2016 before taking a part-time post in August. He became the full-time emergency program manager on April 9.
McComb, 50, grew up in Park Meadows and is one of a dwindling number of people who recall attending school in Park City buildings that were converted into other uses years ago. He was an elementary school student in the Marsac Building and went to middle school in the building that is now the Park City Library. McComb said his childhood memories of Park City include numerous boarded-up Main Street buildings and an unpaved Swede Alley. He lives in Heber City with his family.
McComb brings a military background to the position, having joined the Navy after graduating from high school. He remained in the Navy for 30 years, retiring as a lieutenant commander in November of 2016. His naval career included stations in the U.S. like San Diego; Annapolis, Maryland; and Newport, Rhode Island. His foreign assignments included Bahrain, Spain, Italy and Cuba.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s dangerous,” he said about the world. “There’s lots of hazards that I think people tend to forget because we don’t encounter them everyday.”
McComb is aware of the most likely threats to Park City. The area is well known as a seismically active region, meaning there is a risk of earthquakes although there has not been a serious one in Park City’s recorded history.
Wildfires are another threat to Park City. They are perhaps the threat that local emergency agencies prepare for the most. The Park City area is heavily forested, and there are numerous houses, lodges and other sorts of buildings in places where they are susceptible to wildfires.
“For us, a wildfire is potentially an economic disaster,” he said.
McComb is preparing for a summer that could be busy for emergency managers and firefighters. He said he intends to relaunch an awareness program that will include encouraging property owners to clear brush and other flammable materials from the area around their homes, creating what is known as defensible space around a structure. He also wants homeowners to keep grass short.
“High winds, dry materials, lots of fuel. We’re likely to be at elevated risk of wildfire,” he said.
The National Interagency Fire Center projects the Park City area is between above normal and normal danger of significant wildfires for June and July. The risk will depend on the weather conditions through the spring and into the summer.
McComb wants to better engage the community in emergency preparedness as well as strengthen relationships with other governments in the area.
McComb’s Navy career influenced his path toward a post in emergency services. He spent time assigned to an aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, after the Sept. 11 attacks. The carrier, in the Indian Ocean at the time, launched airstrikes against al-Qaida positions, he said.
“It was exhilarating to have that sense of purpose,” he said, also describing the experience as sobering. “In this case, justified conflict.”
The ship he was aboard also enforced a no-fly zone in the U.S. just after Sept. 11, plying the waters 25 miles off the coast of Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
McComb’s duties include planning against terrorism. He declined to provide details since emergency services and law enforcement do not typically discuss publicly such strategies. He said Park City had drafted anti-terrorism measures prior to his hiring. He described the measures as sufficient.
He said Park City is at an elevated risk of terrorism based on its prominence as a tourism destination with many festivals and international media attention. He said there are no specific threats against Park City.
“There is definitely a risk of terrorism. … But I think that’s true across the U.S.,” he said.
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A group of people that appeared to largely represent Park City’s development and real estate industries joined family members of the late United Park City Mines President Hank Rothwell on Wednesday as a road was named in his honor. It was a tribute to a key figure in the great growth battles of the 1990s.