Lt. Stew Anderson was on vacation just two weeks before his retirement. The reason for the getaway: helping Houston recover from catastrophic flooding.
Anderson announced his retirement on social media Sept. 22 after serving 28 years as Natrona County's emergency management coordinator.
In addition to his county position, the 28-year-old Anderson also serves with the Federal Emergency Management Administration in a reserve capacity.
The FEMA position is what put him on Thursday in Texas, where he served as a liaison between the federal agency and local governments. That's where he'll return after his retirement becomes effective -- on Friday the 13th.
Anderson began his time coordinating the county's emergency service departments on another inauspicious day, April Fool's Day, 1989. After initially taking the position in tandem with his duties running the sheriff's department's patrol division, he found working both jobs was too much.
Anderson went to his boss, then-Sheriff Ron Ketchum, and told him he was overwhelmed.
"He said, 'OK, pick one, as long as it's emergency management,'" Anderson recalled Thursday.
Anderson took Ketchum's advice, and in the nearly three decades since, he developed a taste for the job.
"One of the most fascinating things about emergency management is: I deal with large things I have no control over," Anderson said.
Fires and floods
Anderson has been responsible for heading up the county's Emergency Management Administration, which handles responses to disasters like the 2015 Cole Creek fire and periodic flooding along the North Platte River. His office also heads up the county's Community Emergency Response Team, which is composed of local citizens who are trained to respond to emergencies. Those teams were formed in 1999 and in the years since have headed out of the county to respond to a hurricane in Atlanta, flooding in Kaycee and a tornado in Wright.
Anderson said the power of those events gave him appreciation for his role.
"Several times I've been awestruck by Mother Nature," he said. "All you can do is take people out of the way."
It's a little insight into what Anderson and his colleagues refer to as a "bug," caught like the flu.
Thanks to Anderson, Waynette Spence is one of those who caught the bug.
Anderson introduced Spence to emergency- and first-response work when she found herself "rattled to the bones" by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She joined Natrona County's CERT program, and a year after she was trained, Anderson asked her to start teaching, she said. She thought she should possess a more comprehensive understanding of medicine, so she took an emergency medical technician class, with Anderson's blessing.
On her first ambulance ride-along, Spence discovered she loved the work.
"And I was helping," she said. "And I could do something about it."
Spence spent the next 13-plus years with Evansville Emergency Services before retiring from a career begun with the help of Anderson.
"People do not know what a community servant (Anderson) is," Spence said. "He's got a heart as big as Texas, he really does."
Anderson also taught emergency medicine to sheriff's deputies, Sheriff Gus Holbrook said. Holbrook said Anderson has a "true love for sharing" his knowledge.
Two years ago, Anderson gave Holbrook a heads up: An eclipse in 2017 would draw big crowds.
Anderson spent the next two years preparing for Casper to be inundated with out-of-town visitors for the festival. The event went off without a hitch.
Off into the sunset
As for why he decided to call it quits now, Anderson said there was a confluence of factors. He'd maxed out his retirement, had about wrapped up two separate department re-certifications that are due every five years and had put the eclipse festival in his rearview mirror.
"It's a good point to pass the baton, so to speak," Anderson said.
Lt. John Harlan is slated to take Anderson's place as the new Emergency Management Coordinator. After working with Anderson for 11 years as the sheriff's office emergency management division sergeant, Harlan said Anderson's retirement is well earned.
"I'm happy for him," Harlan said. "He's poured his heart and soul into the community."
Anderson won't be taking it too easy in retirement, though. He'll have a weekend off, then head back to Houston the following Monday.
Holbrook said he wouldn't expect Anderson to take retirement easy.
"It's not in his nature," he said.