By HEATHER NELLIS
FONDA -- He might be better known as Montgom-ery County's newly retired undersheriff, but Jeffery T. Smith actually has a longer tenure as a volunteer fireman.
His career marks 26 years with the Fort Plain Fire Department, and 25 years with the county sheriff's office.
It's experience that made Smith a natural choice to be the county's new Emergency Manage-ment Department director, legislators said when unanimously confirming the appointment recommended by Executive Matt-hew Ossenfort last week.
"On behalf of the county, we're very fortunate to have a gentleman like Jeff Smith for this position," said District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond. "His credentials are beyond compare, so I'm very glad he wanted to take it."
"It's a very important role. I don't think we can have a better person in that position," Ossenfort said.
Smith, who retired as undersheriff on Friday, said he grew an interest in the position when it became vacated by the last appointed director in September, but he's always believed the position would be a good fit.
"I've been involved in every natural disaster the county has endured throughout my public service," he said.
Most recently, his village of Fort Plain was struck by catastrophic flooding in June. Abbott Street resident Ethel Healey was killed when her mobile home was swept away by flood waters, hundreds of other homes were damaged and destroyed, and infrastructure was severely impacted.
As the undersheriff and assistant chief of the village's fire department, he's gained first-hand knowledge of disaster relief and prevention, and he plans to put it to good use.
In anticipation of his new job, Smith said he's working to develop 60- and 90-day plans for his office. He's also has been in contact with state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabar-bara, D-Rotterdam, about anticipated improvements to the watershed's flood warning gauge system.
In November, the state announced $8.5 million in upgrades to help fill in the gaps in the existing system; something local officials say they have been requesting for a very long time.
They say the gages in place work well, but there aren't enough of them, limiting the system.
The nearest gages to Montgomery County are at Little Falls, and then Schenectady.
In lieu of such equipment here, the county dispatches longtime, experienced volunteers to literally sit and watch the creek and river levels during high-water events.
More gages will provide not only for more accurate data, but responders will get out of the line of fire.
"The most important thing I'm thinking about right now is the gauges," Smith said. "I've reached out to our local legislators to make sure I have direct involvement where those gauges will be placed. Water levels are vitally important to our planning."
The Canal Corp. board approved the project at its Sept. 11 meeting. It's contingent on approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the system is geared toward 27 counties "where flooding has long been a recurring problem." More than 13,000 square miles will be covered.
Since 2006, three separate flooding events resulted billions of dollars worth of damage to private property and public infrastructure.
An advanced early warning system can reduce flood-induced property loss by upwards of 15 percent, with even more important benefits to human life and health, a news release said.