By Charlotte Smith
Bladen County has weathered a lot of storms and disasters. The county’s local emergency services team, lead by Bradley Kinlaw, has always been first on the scene.
Kinlaw has lead teams for recovery efforts both locally and abroad during catastrophic events such as, natural disasters, fires, train derailments, vehicle wrecks, and search operations. Therefore, many are sad to see Kinlaw resign from his leadership role in the mother county.
May 17 will be Kinlaw’s last day as Bladen County Emergency Services Director according to Greg Martin, Bladen County Manager. Martin said Kinlaw has served as Bladen County Emergency Services Director since 2009; so for the better part of 10 years.
Kinlaw said, “I have offered to help as I can until July 1st because I don’t want to leave the county in a bind, especially since we are still trying to recover from the hurricane.”
When asked what were some of the fondest memories Kinlaw had during his career in Bladen he answered, “I would have to say working in the emergency operations center during numerous events and seeing the various folks come together as one solid team to get things done.”
Kinlaw continued, “It’s tough work, but its something I will always enjoy doing. We are always trying to protect life and property, but at the same time make Bladen County a better place.”
He added, “I also really enjoy when I can get out and fight fires beside others and crawl in the bottom of the ditches and get dirty and sticky, making things happen.”
He paused and said, “It’s certainly been a team effort. It’s always been a team effort. The successes weren’t mine, they were ours.”
Martin listed disasters Kinlaw played successful pivotal roles in; the Simmons Road fire that took around 50 days to extinguish, tornadoes that ripped through the county, and hurricanes Matthew and Florence which caused a lot of destruction for the area.
When asked how he felt about Kinlaw’s departure, Martin said, “He has a strong work ethic. He has provided dedicated service with great leadership. Personally, I hate to see him go, but I definitely wish him the best.”
Mike Hinson, Bladen County Ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service, recalled working with Kinlaw many years ago during the Simmons fire. He said, “Bradley was there every day just like the late John Hall. We worked together supporting each other just like with the hurricanes.”
Hinson said, “It’s a team effort and it’s been a pleasure working with Bradley Kinlaw. He is very professional. He is all you want in an Emergency Manager Director. Bladen County is going to lose a very valuable piece of the puzzle for recovery efforts.”
Hinson along with many others in emergency services have all been quoted saying, “Whoever takes Kinlaw’s place is going to have some mighty big shoes to fill.”
Dale Brennan, White Lake Fire Chief, recounted working with Kinlaw in the past when Kinlaw served on the Elizabethtown and Lisbon Fire Departments and with Bladen County Water Rescue. Brennan said, Bradley Kinlaw has served for the last several years as a member of the White Lake Fire Department.
Brennan reminisced about serving beside Kinlaw, “We went to Party Rock and Lake Lure in 2016 and we have helped with train derailments along side Bladenboro Fire Chief Jackie Coleman, we helped with tornadoes, searches, woods fires… you name it, Hurricane Floyd, Matthew and Florence. We all worked our butts off at the training center too.”
“His leadership skills will be greatly missed. He has respect from all the fire chiefs and emergency responders. He has the connections to get the resources you need,” Brennan said, “He had people already staged before the hurricane was here. He is respected all over the state and you have to earn that.”
Chase Lancaster, Deputy Fire Marshall has worked with Kinlaw for 7 years with the county and 15 years through the local fire departments.
“He has always been an awesome mentor and leader to me. He is always someone you look up to. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to work with him,” Lancaster said. “He is a natural born leader. We hate to see him go, but we will take what he has taught us and continue to serve the citizens of Bladen County.”
Retired Kelly Fire Chief Kenny Thornton, who worked with Kinlaw during fires and hurricanes explained the service Kinlaw has provided to all areas of Bladen County.
“Bradley has done an excellent job. He has supported us. Kelly Fire Department is on the out skirts and [Kinlaw] was instrumental in getting our satellite station started,” Thornton said.
He explained, “We are one of the departments that is effected so much by the flooding and hurricanes because we are between the Cape Fear and Black rivers and It’s been a struggle, but Bradley has been right there to get us the help and supplies that we needed.”
He added, “Bradley continues to be there for us as a station and as a community. A couple weeks ago he just came in and sat in on a weekly fire meeting. To come all the way to the far out stations wanting to know if there is anything he can do to help, really means a lot.”
David Howell, EMS Director added to the farewells for the beloved Kinlaw. He said about Kinlaw, “It’s been an excellent experience, and he is dedicated to Bladen County and the various disciplines; EMS, Fire and law enforcement. His leadership throughout Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence was phenomenal and he taught me a lot. He held the team together. He was the core. He had a very good plan in place and did an excellent job holding us all together through it.”
“Bradley was really good about mentoring new hires and making them feel like part of the team,” Howell noted.
Working with all divisions in emergency services is an important role Kinlaw has filled throughout the years. Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker gave high commendations for Kinlaw. McVicker said, “He has always had Bladen County citizens at heart.”
McVicker said he and Kinlaw have been working together to prepare for storms forecasted to head towards Bladen County in the near future. “Bradley Kinlaw will be greatly missed.”
Kenneth Clark, Bladen County Fire Marshal and Corner said, “Bradley Kinlaw has been great for the county. It has been a positive forward progression for the county. He is leaving the county better than he found it.”
Kinlaw will be taking on the new role of Deputy Director of Emergency Services in Harnett County. He was recently engaged to Amber Huggins Hardee, a Bladen County native and he admitted, “She is the whole reason I’m leaving.”
He is very excited about the new adventures awaiting him and his new bride-to-be.
“I love Bladen County,” Kinlaw said, “and I will come back on weekends and help out as much as possible.”
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