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Southwest Spotlight: Denise Brew is constantly preparing for the worst

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew discusses her work at her office at the county courthouse on Monday.

MANNING — For Denise Brew, it’s her job to worry.

As emergency manager for Dunn County, Brew is constantly thinking ahead for the worst-case scenario. Meanwhile, she helps prepare county residents for the cold and snow, plans for other forms of severe weather and sometimes even responds to spills — a growing duty with Dunn County being one of four most-impacted oil counties in the state.

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Sitting at her desk on a 24-below day in Manning, Brew’s mind was racing.

“I dwell on what-ifs,” she said. That Monday, it was the possibility of a car wreck that left someone out in the cold for too long.

For Brew and the 52 other county emergency managers in the state, no two jobs are alike.

“There are a whole lot of me’s out there,” she said. “There isn’t one of us that does the same thing”

For Brew, the oil makes her job unique.

With more people on the roads — and more trucks — accidents can be more common and more severe.

And in the case of a blizzard, the department now recommends people plan for having enough supplies for three days, not two, partly because of the growing population that would shop Walmart out of stock — of food, water, even propane — quicker.

She also encourages folks to pack away a comfort item for those snowed-in days.

For her, that’s books.

“That’s my big fear, is that I’m gonna have nothing to read,” she said.

She also plays the saxophone in the Killdeer community band, a relic from her days in marching band at North Dakota State University, the only years she spent away from Killdeer.

Growing up in the county has made her job easier, she said — she knows the people and the land.

As a young girl, she could get snowed in for a week, so she and her family lived planning ahead.

Killdeer police Chief Chris Fenstermaker said it’s nice to have someone who’s always thinking that way.

He’ll reach out to Brew for assistance responding to some types of spills, and she reaches out with weather announcements, or any other events the department may need to be prepared for.

He last called Brew after a truck fishtailed on Central Avenue in Killdeer and its oil tank split open.

“She kinda predicts what could be happening down the road so she’s not reactive,” said North Dakota Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong. “She’s leaning forward, she’s proactive.”

Brew’s also the 911 coordinator for the county, and volunteers as-needed as an EMT. The EMT work can be tempting when she is responding to an incident in her emergency manager role, she said.

“We’re supposed to be managing at the desk,” she said.

Her passion for work extends outside the walls of the Dunn County Courthouse.

Some of her favorite movies are “The Call,” in which Halle Barry plays a 911 operator, and “The Day After Tomorrow,” about the be-all-end-all of storms.

“My husband calls me a disaster junkie,” she said.

“Other people say, ‘You worry too much.’”

But that’s OK with Brew, who’d rather worry about something and not see it happen than deal with something she’s not prepared for.

Brew didn’t get into emergency management until she took her current position in 2007 — and even that was spontaneous.

Ready for a change from her job as a program technician at the Farm Service Agency, she was approached about the opening and went for it, before talking to anyone about it or even hearing what she’d get paid.

It seems like it was a good decision.

Her favorite part of the job makes sense, even though it’s what she fights every day: unpredictability.

“Every day when I get up I never know what I’m gonna do,” she said. “There’s no boring moment.”

Despite the differences among county emergency managers’ day-to-day jobs, there’s one thing in common, Brew said.

“If you’re not passionate about it,” she said, “I don’t think you could understand why you want to be involved with all this gory stuff.”