Ballston Spa

Saratoga County commissioner of Emergency Services has passion for public service

Zeilman putting years of experience to work in COVID fight
Carl Zeilman, commissioner of the Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services, works at the county office building on April 8.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Carl Zeilman, commissioner of the Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services, works at the county office building on April 8.

Categories: Rising to the Challenge, Saratoga County, Special Sections

BALLSTON SPA — Carl Zeilman is used to dealing with emergencies.

It’s in his job title — commissioner of Emergency Services in Saratoga County — and he’s been planning around them for years.

COVID-19 is unlike anything he, and many others alive today, have dealt with before.

Zeilman grew up in Colonie and graduated from the University at Albany and Russell Sage College with a master’s in public administration and health services. In the past, he has worked as a volunteer firefighter and an EMT.

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He’s also a lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve and serves as the public affairs officer for the Navy Office of Information East.

Zeilman has always had a passion for public service and that has shown through, especially over the past few months as he’s taken that passion to a new level. He’s worked with agencies as part of the Saratoga County Emergency Management Team to plan for COVID-19.

That preparation involved creating an incident command center in Ballston Spa, bringing together volunteers and county employees from a variety of departments to help stop the spread of the virus.

Earlier this month, The Gazette spoke with Zeilman about how the plans came together and about some of the challenges first responders face every day.

Q: Until a few months ago, what sort of emergencies had you dealt with? 

A: Everything from hazmat calls to house fires to working in the incident command center on Operation Superstorm Sandy when that hit New York.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: When did you first start planning for COVID-19?

A: As part of our ongoing preparedness efforts, my office continually works with Public Health on preplanning for communicable diseases and other manmade issues. Specifically, my office began working on the COVID-19 issue in late December into January.

Q: At that time, was it only tentative?

A: [It was] “What if?” It was reviewing the context of our emergency plans, our communicable disease and isolation plan. It was updating our county emergency management plan, looking at the continuity of operations for government office needs, to provide services to the community.

Q: How have your initial plans changed since then?

A: Things change on a daily basis. Whether it’s [the needs of] the community or needs of the health care provider, things are constantly changing. So we have been working in the unified command structure for over a month now. That contains Public Health, Mental Health, Office of Aging, Social Services, Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Services.

Basically what that has allowed us to do is to work seamlessly to provide for the needs of the residents around the clock. Not only can we assist with our first responders in getting the necessary PPE [personal protective equipment] that they need, working on the front lines, we’re working with the hospital in identifying potential patients or tracking contact of individuals in the community to providing services.

If there’s a resident that calls our hotline, we’re able to turn to our left or right and contact Mental Health and say “An individual [is] presenting some characteristics of need.” We’ll be able to offer that individual immediate assistance. We’re able to respond very quickly to the needs that we’re confronted with.

Q: Roughly how many people do you have taking calls at the center?

A: That fluctuates on a daily basis. At any point in time, we probably have between 40 and 50 people working on-site. That includes call-center resources, clinical, nursing staff, members of the sheriff’s office, members of Aging, Social Services, etc.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: What does an average day on the job look like now?

A: It’s up at 4:30 and it’s in the office by 6 a.m. It’s fast-paced. The needs and requests change frequently, and you basically wrap up your day [around] the evening time, depending on what’s going on.

Mind you, not only are we focused on the COVID-19 response and mitigation of that spread, [but] I’m also in charge of the county emergency radio system. I’m also responsible for policy and procedures with our fire and EMS. I’m working with our front-line responders not just on COVID-19, but the other health-related issues that could be ongoing in the community. There are house fires, there’s hazmat calls, consistent emergency planning, so none of that takes a back seat. We work through it. There’s challenges that are presented.

Fortunately, we have a lot of skilled people working in the Office of Emergency Services and the county. They’ve risen to the challenge and they’re exceeding every day.

Q: What has been one of the most challenging days so far?

A: Every day has got its own challenges. I would say maybe ramping up the incident command center on day one, connecting the dots and making sure that all of the available resources that were needed were ready to go on day one. This is a testament to our county IT department.

One of the biggest challenges is acquiring personal protective equipment for our front-line first responders. That’s been one of the greatest needs throughout this process because everybody, not just in our country but around the world, we’re all going after the same resources. We all need protective gowns, we all need gloves, we all need goggles, we all need masks. It has been fantastic to see our state representatives here in Saratoga County be very vocal on behalf of Saratoga County residents in acquiring those much-needed resources so that our first responders are protected when they’re providing services out in the field.

Q: Has there been a day where supplies ran low?

A: We’re always planning for the worst. So each day I’m always trying to find where I can get additional resources for the men and women of our fire, police and EMS agencies, our hospital, our urgent-cares.

GAZETTE COVID-19 COVERAGE

The Daily Gazette is committed to keeping our community safe and informed and is offering our COVID-19 coverage to you free.
Our subscribers help us bring this information to you. Please consider a subscription at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe to help support these efforts.
Thank You

Q: How have you seen this impact the community already?

A: We obviously see the negative impacts in the community. People are not out. They’re not frequenting certain establishments. We’re not able to get together with our loved ones. That makes it very difficult on all of us and we each need to remember that we’re all in this together.

We’re all going to come out of this together, and we need to be responsible for ourselves and follow the directions from not only the president but your CDC and the governor, practice physical distancing, 6 feet or more, constantly wash your hands, utilize a face mask if you’re out in the general public.

You can help stop the spread by simply staying home.

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