Chester County Emergency Management Director Ed Atkins, who led the department for 17 years, died Monday, according to the county.
Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, chief executive of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, called Atkins "a great man" who always treated Red Cross volunteers with dignity and respect.
"Every single day he committed himself to making Chester County a better place to live, and ensuring that the citizens of Chester County were safe," Hughes said in a video posted by the Red Cross. "We will miss him deeply."
A county spokeswoman said she did not know the cause of death.
County Commissioner Ryan Costello called Atkins a "pioneer" during a time of great change in emergency management. In a statement Costello said Atkins helped develop the Public Safety Training Campus and Strategic National Stockpile program, and also implemented a new radio communication system.
"Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with Ed's family during this time," Costello said.
Atkins, 64, was a retired colonel in the Air Force, where he served for 26 years, according to the county. He was married and a father of five.
In a statement, the Keystone Valley Fire Department said Atkins was known for protecting the safety of first responders and "fought long and hard" to make sure communication systems were safe and effective.
"Director Atkins will be sorely missed by all that knew him," the fire company said.