Jim Vaught is the Dougherty County Emergency Management deputy director.
Deputy Dougherty County Emergency Management Director Jim Vaught is an interesting character. After 27 years in the Marine Corps, the Harley Fatboy-riding leatherneck continued his public service in a variety of different ways — ending in his current role as the county’s top disaster planning specialist.
In a recent sit down with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner, Vaught talks about his his love of “the Duke” and his affinity for single-malt scotch and stogies.
NAME: Jim Vaught
POSITION: Deputy Dougherty Emergency Management Director/ Director of E-911
YEARS ON THE JOB: Nine
PERSONAL: Married to Catherine, his wife of 42 years and has two children and one grandchild.
Q: What was your first job?
A. My first real job was in newspaper delivery. But I’ve mowed lawns, I was a life guard, I was a swimming instructor, I worked for Western Airlines as a boarding agent, I was a janitor, I pumped gas for several years. I’ve never had a time that I can remember where I was working a part-time or full-time job. Even in college I worked a full-time job.
Q. What did you spend your first paycheck on?
A. I was living in Naples, Fla., my father was doing a one-year unaccompanied tour in Japan, and we had a beautiful fishing pier there and the Johnson Sprite lure cost 75 cents. And since my allowance each week was 75 cents, every time the fish took the lure, I couldn’t fish for a week. So that’s why I got a job; to be able to buy some fishing equipment and, actually, every Sunday morning I’d get up, peddle my bike to the pier and catch Spanish Mackerel and mom would fix it and we’d have it for breakfast.
Q. If you were stranded on an island, what three objects would you like to have?
A. Well, single-malt scotch, good hand-rolled cigars, and the ability to make fire.
Q. What philosophy or principles do you use to guide your daily life?
A. I did spend 27 years in the Marine Corps and there are a lot of things the Marine Corps teaches you about being a leader. I would have to say that the most important thing is being able to mentor those who will be coming behind you. You’re not always going to be there. Life will go on. The Marine Corps or any organization will continue to march on whether you’re there or not so you want to prepare those who are coming behind you to replace you.
Q. What do you do in your free time?
A. Well, I don’t seem to get a lot of free time because it always seems that every weekend there some sort of severe weather event or incident where I get called out. I have a Harley Davidson Fatboy that I enjoy riding. I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like to so I pull it out of the garage, clean it up and then something happens so I push back into the garage and hope to ride it the next day.
Q. What’s your primary goal when you clock in each day?
A. We need to make sure that our community is actually prepared. And so what we do is an awful lot of training. You hope you never have to use it, but the more you train, the more you instill in the people who are working with you the better you are should something actually happen. We want people prepared, we want them trained and we want them involved.
Q. Do you have a particular
incident related to your career
that stands out?
A. The first thing that popped into my mind was in 1994. I was still on active duty with the United States Marine Corps and I was visiting my parents in Florida on vacation for the Fourth of July. I went outside to pick up a newspaper and on the front page of the newspaper was a picture of a firefighter from Albany, Ga., with a Jon Boat pulling a coffin. I immediately went inside, called the base and found the situation — that we were under a flood — put the family back into the car and immediately drove back up here. When we got back on the base, we organized teams of Marines to go out and assist people with moving their furniture if possible or, afterwards, helping them remove the drywall and appliances and all that had be taken out to the curb. Even though I wasn’t thinking about a third career in emergency management it became very clear to me that there was a need for this type of career and it was something I tended to gravitate to and was something I wanted to do.
Q. You have a “Sands of Iwo Jima” movie poster on your wall. What’s your favorite movie?
A. I’d have to say “Sands of Iwo Jima” with Sgt. Stryker, John Wayne. There are many movies that I thought were tremendous with the acting ability and there are so many series now and everything that are so good but if I had to pick one film that I could watch more than once — over and over again — it would “Sands of Iwo Jima” and John Wayne.
Q. Are you a beach or mountain guy?
A. Well, at my age and my weight, I just don’t look as good in a speedo anymore so I’d have to say mountains because I enjoy going up into the mountains. The cooler weather, the lakes just the prettiness of the mountains. In my youth, you couldn’t get me off the beach.
Q. What’s your favorite
A. My favorite gadget within the office? I couldn’t live without my computer. I use my computer all day long. I get probably, without exaggeration, 50-plus emails everyday; from either other EMAs or some individuals who are asking for some guidance on questions as it relates to emergency management. Actually my computer crashed not too long ago, and because I had so much good information that was still on there we had to send it to a specialist and were able to retrieve all but two documents that really weren’t that important. So, I’d say my computer is pretty important. I use it every single day. I’m also hooked into the VPN (Virtual Private Network) program for the city so I have turned one of my bedrooms into an office and I can sit there at the computer as if I’m sitting here in the office through the servers in the IT Department.
Q. What advice would you give someone who was looking to do your job?
A. It’s always a changing environment. You need to stay abreast of what’s going on in the way of safety equipment, working with the National Weather Service, working with the American Red Cross, establishing bonds between people that you will need to work with during any type of emergency. You can’t do that during an emergency. You need to make those friendships and acquaintances prior to any event happening. We have a very strong relationship with the National Weather Service, we meet every other month; the American Red Cross, we meet with them every month and quite often we’ll have lunch afterwards. Just this last incident we had the other night with the fire at Albany Heights I was immediately able to call a representative with the American Red Cross; he jumped in his vehicle and drove back to Albany and met me at the civic center and we opened that with the Civic Center Director Susie Davis and wound up being able to put those individuals in there. You can’t do that if you don’t have that relationship ahead of time.
Q. If you could have lunch with anyone real or imaginary, who would it be and why?
A. Actually I’ve probably already answered that by saying it earlier but, Sgt. Stryker, John Wayne. There are so many people I would’ve like to have met and sat down with. Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller, the most decorated Marine in history — a phenomenal individual whom I’ve read about but never had the opportunity to meet. There have been so many interesting people; historical people. I’d even like to run into Patton. I’ve owned an English Bull Terrier for 10 years. I named her the Iron Lady of Valrico after Margaret Thatcher. We called her Maggie for short. So there are just a lot of people in history.