CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Ruth Van Houten, 83 years young, decided it was time to pass the torch.
The outgoing emergency management director in town served her community proudly for almost 15 years, but over the summer made the decision to step down from the position she loves. And the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen named Renee Fales, who had been working with Van Houten for some time, as her replacement.
"She's a wonderful young woman," Van Houten said about her successor. "It's time for someone else to take over."
Fales, a stay-at-home mom of two, said she started training with Van Houten at the end of August and is now flying solo. She told the Reformer she has been a transportation officer for the emergency management team for several years and slowly began helping Van Houten with certain other tasks. Fales said a transportation officer works with the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt., to coordinate bus rides for school children in simulated emergency drills.
She said the emergency management team, which consists of roughly 20 members, is tasked with executing drills with Vermont Yankee.
"I'm looking forward to (the position)," Fales said, adding that there is a stipend that varies each year for the director. "It's a great team and I enjoy working with them."
Van Houten said she inherited the job from Pete Petschik years after she became his deputy and enjoyed every minute of it.
"I sort of just fell into it," she said. "I think it's the satisfaction of accomplishment (I liked the most). With all the people, the cooperation is absolutely outstanding," she said. "I can't rave about it enough. I really can't -- because if you don't have that you're not going to be successful.
"I'm a team player," she continued. "If I didn't have the police department, the fire department, the school -- I don't know what I would've done. We are a team."
Van Houten said everything in the nation, especially how towns planned for emergencies, changed drastically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which occurred a few years after she took the position. Chesterfield's emergency management team must also be ready for a calamity involving Vermont Yankee, which Van Houten said is very gracious with its legal obligation to fund certain programs its surrounding towns.
She said the announcement by Entergy, Vermont Yankee's owner, to shut down the plant sometime in late 2014 will not lessen the responsibility of the Office of Emergency Management, located in the town offices, because proper decommissioning of the plant and restoration of the site will take many years.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.