On September 9, 2021, Meade County resident Michael Leo made his way to Louisville for this year’s KEMA/KENA-APCO Banquet. KEMA stands for, “Kentucky Emergency Management Association”. It is a Kentucky-based non-profit corporation originally established in 1991 seeking to develop professionalism, and acknowledge excellence, in Emergency Management in the state of Kentucky.
KENA stands for “Kentucky Emergency Number Association”, and APCO stands for “The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials”. On the national level, APCO International is the world’s oldest and largest not-for-profit professional organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications. They have more than 15,000 members around the world, and exist to serve the people who manage, operate, maintain, and supply the communications systems used to safeguard the lives and property of citizens everywhere. Together, KENO-APCO represents the state of Kentucky’s Chapters of APCO and NENA, which are the organizations on the national level.
Every year, these organizations hold a weeklong convention to offer classes and training to Emergency Management officials and employees in the state of Kentucky with new information, ideas and training that will help them save lives every day. At the end of the week, they hold an award banquet to acknowledge the 911 dispatchers and the men and women who lead them, as well as the support they receive on the periphery from those in meteorology, political officials such as Judge Executives, and even civilian heroes, that help them.
Originally, Leo had not planned on attending this year, because in his words “There’s always work to do and never enough time”. This is especially true for a man who is as dedicated to his family as he is to his career. However, this year, he was informed by banquet officials that he needed to be present because he was receiving an award. He reluctantly took his best suit out of the closet and went to the event with his wife.
Leo had no idea what award he had been nominated for, or what he was winning. All he knew was that someone had gone out of their way to submit his name for an award, and he was honored that they had done so. It was a good thing he decided to go too since he was awarded KENA-APCO’s Director of the Year for the state of Kentucky. It is one of the highest honors a 911 Director can receive.
Below is the submission by his Hardin County 911 employee, Anthony Coffey, for the award:
“When I started with Hardin Co. five years ago, Leo was my trainer. As a Director he has gone above to ensure that we not only operate at the highest level, but that we, the people underneath him, are taken care of in every way possible. This year we had a virus crash our center in the middle of the night sending us all the way back to pen and paper. He came in with I.T. and they worked to have it all fixed rather shortly. During an ice storm he came in and manned a console right next to us and took a channel dispatching the city fire departments. Even though he is our Director he will work right next to us if needed and still lets the room Supervisor conduct themselves as such. Along with our Deputy Director Michelle Bowen, who I wish I could nominate as well, they make sure we have off the time we need for any reason. I told them I was going to need time off for an elective surgery that would benefit my health and he told me to just let them know the dates and they’ll get it covered. I’ve never had a boss I actually enjoy working for. He promotes having a good mental health, and because of this we have a quiet room where our dispatchers can go if they need to get away from the room. During the weeklong bad weather we had here in Hardin Co., Leo and Bowen made accommodations for employees to be able to stay here at work and also made sure we were stocked with food. He was also the first Director to fight for better pay for our employees across the board and was successful in doing so. There are so many things he’s worked for with our Emergency Management, and all the Agencies that we work with, to get upgrades on towers and radio equipment, moving us further along to try and better assist our community. He’s always been there when we needed him. Whether it’s going out and getting us food, manning a console, or calling/texting us when we were out sick to see how we’re doing. He’s there for us as our boss and someone we can talk to and go to for guidance. He does his best to ensure that we have everything we need to be as successful as we choose to be in this career field. If you do select him, please somehow tell him with the award “it’s not always hammers and nails”. It’s his favorite quote to us supervisors when he’s teaching and guiding us on how to work with shift members. We find it funny now when he says it.”
Leo has 26 years in the First Responder field. He started as a volunteer firefighter in his North Carolina hometown of Swansboro in his teens. From there, he went on to become a Deputy Sheriff, and served in the states of Georgia and North Carolina for 9 years. After moving to Kentucky in 2010, he started working at Hardin County 911 as an emergency dispatcher. Over the years, he moved up the ranks to include being a Trainer and a Lead Shift Supervisor, where in 2015 he was awarded Hardin County’s Dispatcher of the Year at Hardin County Fire Chiefs Association’s annual banquet.
In 2017, Leo was appointed to Director of Hardin County 911, where years of various positions in the First Responder field helps him lead a staff of 25 employees to be the best that they can possibly be in the front line of emergency calls in Hardin County.
When asked what his future plans were, Leo humbly stated, “I hope to continue to serve my community for as long as possible. It’s my calling.”