Q&A with Laura Whitehead: Ready for disaster

Emergency Services Officer Laura Whitehead spent the first 14 years of her life in Cheshire, Conn., a quaint New England town. She said she’s glad she was raised in New England with its four distinct seasons.

“I have such happy memories of each season — swimming with my brother and cousins in our backyard pool, raking up piles of leaves and then jumping in them, making ‘snow angels’ in the fluffy, freshly fallen snow in my yard, ice skating on neighborhood ponds and sprawling in the fragrant spring grass looking for four-leaf clovers with my cousin,” Whitehead said.

In 1990, she married the absolute love of her life, Matt. They are happily married and truly enjoy spending time together. She chose not to have children but Matt has three children, a daughter-in-law, son-in-law and three grandchildren. She said her life is far richer for being a part of their lives. She also has a younger brother, sister-in-law and two beautiful nieces, ages 17 and 18.

Whitehead has been the emergency services officer for the Apple Valley Fire Protection District and the town of Apple Valley since November 2008. She teaches emergency preparedness to businesses and the community. In a disaster, she functions as the emergency operations center coordinator, making sure that response and recovery efforts are well documented so the fire district and the town are able to recover costs associated with the disaster.

She has a bachelor of science degree in journalism/public relations and a master of science degree in public safety/emergency management. In June 2012, she received a certification as a Certified Emergency Manager.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Ride my horses! My dream as a little girl was to someday have a ranch with horses, and that wish finally came true a few months ago. Matt and I have our dream home on five acres with a beautiful big barn and fabulous horses. We found that we absolutely love the Peruvian Paso horses — the “Rolls Royce” of horses — because of their comfortable gaits. Riding them is amazing. I find being on my horse riding through the desert to be one of the most peaceful and enjoyable experiences ever.

Q: Who is someone who had a big influence on your life?
A: My parents. They taught me my core values and to be kind, caring and loving to others. I’m so blessed to still have my mom, 87, and dad, 89, and both are healthy. They’ve been married for 69 years and I am so proud of them! They were neighbors in Connecticut and my dad used to push my mom in her baby carriage. They even share the same birthday, two years apart. Theirs is truly an extraordinary love story. I finally convinced them to move here to Apple Valley’s Sun City so they can be close to me, and I look forward to helping them pick out a home and get settled in the next few months.

Q: Where do you find deep satisfaction?
A: In helping others; being a good friend, giving to others through community service and being a good community educator. As a member of the Soroptimist Club of Apple Valley, I find satisfaction in knowing that the money we raise and scholarships we award helps to improve the lives of women and girls locally. In addition, I have made a lot of wonderful friends in the club who I know will be friends for life. I also enjoy teaching the citizens of Apple Valley about the importance of being prepared for emergencies and disasters. It has been a passion of mine to get as many people prepared as possible for a large earthquake. It’s not a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when” we will experience a large quake. So I do my best to encourage all residents to take the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) free training.

Q: If you could change one thing about Apple Valley today, what would it be?
A: I would love to see our community landscape be free of trash. It upsets me that when I take long horseback rides through the desert, I have to be careful to watch out for broken glass and many other discarded trash items littered through the area. I don’t understand why people are so careless and thoughtless of animals and people when they toss their trash around.

Q: Tell us about a happy memory in your first car.
A: Believe it or not, learning to drive! My dad taught me, and I still remember having that one-on-one time with him showing his “little girl” how to drive. I know I made mistakes, but he was always patient with me and made sure that I became a really good driver. I am so fortunate to still have my dad around and I will always cherish those memories.

Q: Who was your hero as a kid? Do you have a hero today (or someone you especially admire)?
A: My brother Jackie. He was 7 years older and I really looked up to him. Sadly, he passed away when he was 16 and I was 9. He was a great brother and looked out for me. However, I also really looked up to my cousin, Cyndi, from the time I was very young. We grew up together and she has always been a “big sister” to me. I truly admire her for her love of life and of people! She’s been through many adversities, and always finds that “silver lining” with her positive attitude and seeing the glass as half-full. She is an amazing woman and the best friend I could ever have. We have laughed and cried together, and have shared everything with each other. She is and will always be my hero.

Q: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
A: When I lived in Colorado in 1996 I walked across the Royal Gorge Bridge. It is one of the world’s highest suspension bridges at 956 feet high and it spans a quarter of a mile across the canyon. It was comprised of wood planks that had spaces between them, so when I walked across, I was able to look all the way down to the bottom of the canyon at the river rushing by. I could feel the bridge sway as I walked, and it was an incredible feeling to make it all the way across and then back again, especially because of my fear of heights! I looked at the bridge, and decided that I was absolutely going to overcome my fear and just do it so I did — and it was glorious! What an awe-inspiring experience. I am so glad I pushed through the fear and accomplished my goal.

Q: What are five things you can’t live without?
A: There are definitely more than five, but I’ll start with Matt, all my pets (dogs, cats and horses), pedicures with the best foot rub on the planet, incredibly relaxing back massages and chocolate!

Q: What makes you tick?
A: Having a purpose in life. I want to make a difference to others. To know that something I have done has helped someone in some way makes me happy — and keeps me ticking!

Q: Tell us about one thing you want to accomplish in life.
A: I want to take a trip to the East Coast with Matt and tour the 13 original colonies and delve into the history of our country. While there, I also want to visit the Smithsonian in Washington. Maybe for our 25th anniversary we will be able to go and get to know more about our country’s roots. Although I grew up back east, now that I am adult, I will be able to enjoy it from a different perspective.

Q: What are five things you are grateful for?
A: My family, my friends, my health, my pets, my love of life.

Q: What are your three favorite places to eat in the High Desert?
A: I have many favorites, but I like to support the Apple Valley restaurants close to my office: Mollie’s, Las Brisas, and Mama Carpino’s. They have whatever I am in the mood for, and each meal is fabulous!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say, anything you’d like to get off your chest?
A: I’d like to say that I love this town that I have called home since 2001. This is the longest I have lived in one place in my life, and this is where I want to stay. I love the people here, I love having my dream home and horses, and I love my job. I hope that Apple Valley continues to improve, yet remain the rural community that it is known for and loved for. It really is “a better way of life” here.

Q: How can readers get a hold of you?
A: Please contact me at the Apple Valley Fire Protection District at (760) 247-7618, ext. 106 or email me at LWhitehead@applevalleyfd.com. I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or would like me to customize an emergency preparedness presentation for your Neighborhood Watch group, community group, or business organization. The better prepared you are as in individual helps make the entire community of Apple Valley better prepared to endure the response and recovery in a major disaster.

Who would you like to see profiled in an upcoming Q&A? Drop us a line at News@AppleValley-Review.com.

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