WHITMAN — The town is mourning the death of veteran call firefighter and former Emergency Management Director Robert H. Schmitt, 91, who died Thursday, April 18 after a brief illness.
Fire Chief Timothy Grenno said Schmitt, who retired as WEMA director in 2011, was dedicated to town emergency planning. [See obituary, page 13].
“He did a ton of work for the town,” Grenno said. “His dedication, his sense of humor and his overall love and commitment for the town of Whitman will be missed.”
Town Administrator Frank Lynam described Schmitt as “a true gentleman.”
“He cared deeply about his town,” Lynam said. “He served since its inception as director of Emergency Management, he was just a fully committed individual who was always there to lend a hand.”
Schmitt was active in the Civil Defense Administration beginning in 1960, which became the Whitman Emergency Management Agency, where he served as director until 2011. During his time as Director he helped develop the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). He was a man of many accomplishments, but he was most proud of his time serving Whitman as a call-firefighter. He first volunteered as an auxiliary firefighter in 1961, was appointed as a call-firefighter in 1963, and retired in 2008 after 47 years of service to the Whitman Fire Department.
Selectmen had designated July 1, 2011 as Robert Schmitt Day in recognition of his retirement as WEMA director and his service to the town.
“Bob was instrumental in bringing the town emergency operations and emergency management department into the 21st century with the town’s hazardous mitigation plans and emergency response team and it’s training.”
Lisa Riley, the Fire Department’s administrative assistant worked closely with Schmitt.
“Bob was instrumental — he was the catalyst — behind getting the CERT team as well as the Rehab Unit put together,” Riley said. “He conducted CERT training classes, he was on the Civil Defense so when the President [George W. Bush] came down and said Homeland Security now wants the communities to be involved and become an organization of emergency management teams, Bob took that under his own initiative, brought it into our town, researched it, trained under the CERT program and brought it to the community here.”
CERT classes were offered every year when they first started, according to Riley, beginning about 2003.
“Bob conducted the training classes, got guest speakers in, got everybody totally involved,” she said. “At this point he was already in his 80s. … He was always here at the station helping out.”
Riley said Schmitt’s trainees were devoted to him.
“They loved him and worked for him and came to these meetings because he saw that they wanted to give back to the community just like he did,” she said.
The development of the Rehab Unit was a way of keeping the CERT team more active in an area where natural disasters are not as common as other areas of the country, Riley noted.
“That’s the way Bob was,” she said. “Bob was an action guy — if you were going to do something, Bob was a planner and got things done.”
The CERT team posted a salute to Schmitt on its Facebook page:
“It is with deep sadness we share the news that retired Whitman Emergency Management Director, Robert H. Schmitt, passed away on Thursday, April 18th. A long time call firefighter and civil defense volunteer, Bob was an integral part in forming not only our Emergency Management Department, but developing our CERT program and Rehab Unit. Without Bob, our program wouldn’t be what it is today. We send our condolences to his family and pray for their comfort during this sad time.”