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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

Veteran New York City firefighter, lawyer named
director of safety and risk management at URI

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 26, 2003 -- A former commanding officer of the New York City Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Unit and coordinator of the New York Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management has been appointed the new director of safety and risk management at the University of Rhode Island.

J. Kevin Culley, 54, a member of the New York City Fire Department for 24 years, who also earned a law degree from the New York School of Law, began his work at URI in February.

He immediately began an inspection of URI’s places of public assembly and a review of the University’s emergency response guidelines. He and his staff have inspected nearly 100 places of assembly for fire code and alarm compliance and found no violations.

At URI, the director of safety and risk management oversees a wide range of areas, including fire safety, industrial hygiene, hazardous materials storage and disposal, alarm systems and insurance.

"During my 25 years with the University, I have seen the responsibilities of the Safety and Risk Management Department grow in scope and complexity," said J. Vernon Wyman, URI assistant vice president for business services. "We are very fortunate to have an individual of Mr. Culley’s caliber join the University’s management team. His experience will be a real asset in the oversight and promotion of fire and public safety, emergency response preparedness, and environmental compliance."

Culley said his priorities are the protection of life, property and the environment.

"I will be a conduit who will deliver information to as many people as possible on campus," said the Brooklyn native. "The New York fire department is almost a cloistered community that is separate from the community at large. Here, I know I will be bouncing things off people all the time. I feel very welcomed here, and I really look forward to being around students because they create a refreshing environment."

A resident of Charlestown, R.I., Culley earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. He was pursuing graduate research in biophysics at Downstate Medical Center when a friend challenged him to take the New York City firefighters exam.

"I was a rugby player, and this friend said, ‘If you think you’re so tough, why don’t you see if you can pass the firefighters test," Culley said. "I took the challenge and passed."

In 1979, he began his career as a firefighter at New York’s Engine Company 232, and in 1984 became a firefighter/hazardous materials technician. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1989. In 1991, he returned as a lieutenant to supervise a platoon leader in the hazardous materials unit. In 1997, he joined the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center as a fire captain/citywide emergency coordinator. He returned to the hazardous materials unit in April 2002 as the commander.

His work for the Mayor’s Office put him in the cross hairs of terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

"On Sept. 11, I was in the office of emergency management on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center," Culley said. "People have told me what a beautiful day it was, but all I remember is a gray thick cloud filled with dust and soot."

Culley responded to the north tower as the interagency coordinator, and was still in there when the south tower collapsed. "We got out of the north tower when that happened.
"For the most part, getting out was a matter of luck," he said. "Nobody was smarter or faster, it was just plain luck."

Culley remembers a scene of twisting steel hanging from buildings, and about a dozen high rise fires burning simultaneously. He also remembers the collapse of 7 World Trade Center following the collapse of the two main towers.

"The reason I am so comfortable talking about it is that from the first moment of the attack, you could see so many people doing so many great things.

"The lessons we learned from that disaster are not new," he said. "The lesson is that your pre-planning should go in-depth. It’s not important to figure out what the terrorist is going to do; we have to plan for what we do if the terrorist strikes, if fire breaks out, or if we have another major event.

"It took a solid week for us to establish an incident command center after the attacks. But the better the plan, the quicker you can catch up."

Culley, who is a member of the New York State Bar Association and a veteran of the Vietnam War, said he pursued the URI job because he was looking for a change. He said he was also eyeing the Northeast or the Northwest because of their natural beauty.

Culley said a great deal can be learned from the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the fire disaster at the nightclub in West Warwick.

"I now have an attentive audience, and I have gotten calls from people in the University community asking for inspections and guidance. My goal here is to provide the safest possible environment at URI, and now all I have to do is get around to see all 300 buildings. That’s been a challenge."

The University of Rhode Island has four campuses—the main Kingston Campus with 139 buildings on 1,200 acres; the 165-acre Narragansett Bay Campus; the URI Feinstein Providence Campus and the 2,300-acre W. Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich.

Culley succeeds interim director Jim Jackson, who took over in July 2001 following the retirement of Frank McGovern, who was director since September 1974. Jackson has returned to his post as the University’s fire alarm superintendent.

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