Scott Forster has responded to emergencies across Pennsylvania, ranging from hurricanes and floods to trapped miners and stranded motorists.
He has served as an officer for a volunteer fire company and head of a rescue squad, and he has trained emergency managers and first responders in communities around the Philadelphia area and the state.
Starting this week, Forster, 38, is Bucks County’s top official for emergency services, charged with overseeing the safety and welfare of 627,000 residents. He replaces John Dougherty, 66, of Bristol Borough, who retired last week after 20 years as coordinator of the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
“I don’t have any special projects — I have an open mind,” Forster said Wednesday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Ivyland. “I want to build on the strengths of John Dougherty and see if new initiatives will make us better.”
One of Forster’s priorities is to provide “the best, correct, real-time information” to first responders, emergency management officials, and the public “instead of them getting it through the rumor mill,” he said.
Social media, websites and community alert systems such as ReadyNotifyPa will tell police officers, firefighters and rescue workers what the operations center is doing and let residents know what action they should take, Forster said.
“We need to pool information, not make people search around for it,” he said.
Forster grew up in Lackawanna County and lives in southern Lehigh County with his wife, Cindy; their son, 2; and two stepsons, 12 and 10. He said he does not plan to move to Bucks.
But he has gotten to know the county during his more than 10 years working for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).
He worked at the county’s Emergency Operations Center to deal with the October storm Sandy, and assessed the damage caused by Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan in 2004. Following those hurricanes, he worked in a temporary center in New Hope for weeks, helping residents apply for county, state and federal aid.
“People who lived along the Delaware were flooded out three times,” Forster said. “They really went through a lot of hard times.”
Since 2001, he has been an adjunct professor with Bucks County Community College, at the county’s Public Safety Training Center in Doylestown. And he has provided training at emergency centers around the county.
With PEMA, Forster has served as director of the state Emergency Operations Center, an emergency management specialist and manager of its counter terrorism program. For the past two years, he was division director of training and exercises.
Before PEMA, Forster served as director of emergency services for Carbon County, which has a population about 10 percent that of Bucks.
“I believe we are getting the best of the best,” county Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said in a statement announcing Forster’s hiring for the $85,000-a-year job. “His extensive background with PEMA and within the first response community is an ideal fit for Bucks County.”
Forster is certified as a fire official, fire inspector, hazardous materials technician, emergency medical technician, and emergency manager. As a certified professional continuity practitioner, he can ensure that essential services are maintained when government operations are shut down.
He has a bachelor of science degree in emergency preparedness and Homeland Security from Thomas Edison State College and is working on his master’s in administration from California State University.
Forster said the toughest emergencies he has faced are the rescue of nine men trapped in the flooded Quecreek coal mine in western Pennsylvania in 2002, and the stranding of hundreds of motorists on interstate highways 80, 81 and 78 during the Valentine’s Day storm of 2007.
It is important to have warm blankets and drinking water in the car in winter, and to keep the gas tank full, in case a snowstorm snarls traffic or your car gets stuck, Forster said.
In case of a power outage at home, be prepared to support yourself and your family for three days with nonperishable food, water, flashlights and battery-powered radios, he said.
When buying an emergency generator, get it hooked up by a professional, he advised. Carbon monoxide can build up and be dangerous, he said, and electrical connections can cause a problem when the power comes back on.