Acting Unit Chief of the Urban Search & Rescue Program
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Led with concern for his colleagues and fearlessness in the face of great danger throughout his career.
From the infernos of forest fires to the ruins of the World Trade Center, David Webb’s 20-plus years of public service have been characterized by a resourcefulness and strong leadership that have alleviated the consequences of numerous catastrophes.
It was on the front lines, battling brush fires as a Forestry Technician, that Webb earned “a reputation for technical aptitude and exemplary performance under stress.”
Yet, even when called upon to fell burning trees that others considered too dangerous, he displayed an impressive concern for his co-workers. When fire protective facemasks for wild-land firefighters became available, Webb was one of the first to purchase them for his crews and himself.
However, his abilities are not limited to his fire-fighting skills. In the mid 1980s he recognized the need for a database to organize essential information for fire dispatchers. Aware of the need but lacking the expertise to fill it, he took it upon himself to solve the problem. He purchased a computer for home use at great personal expense and learned its intricacies during his spare time. The result: the largest computer aided dispatch database in the agency’s history.
His concern for his colleagues not only made him an impressive leader, it also saved his life. Engulfed by flames while fighting a fire in 1996, the facemask that he had introduced to his crews prevented what, according to his colleagues, would have been fatal injury.
However, like forests that are reborn through fire, Webb proved indomitable. Rather than going on disability, he used some of his 1300+ sick hours for his weeks in physical therapy and, without missing a beat, moved cross-country to begin a new career as manager of the Urban Search and Rescue Program (US&R) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
His skills would be utilized again while responding to the September 11th tragedies at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. With years of steadfastly staring down disaster behind him, he immediately marshaled the necessary resources for what would prove to be the largest and most successful deployment of US&R task forces in FEMA history.
Even after grappling with the phenomenally stressful operation of deploying 25 of FEMA’s 28 task forces, Webb has continued to confront new challenges. In the aftermath of September 11th operations, he recognized the need to track individual US&R respondents during dangerous operations. The result has been his collaboration with the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and national laboratories to influence the development of individual remote sensing capabilities.
The words “caring”, “integrity” and “honesty” are invoked by those who know Webb. These, in conjunction with the industriousness and innovative thinking that have characterized his work, make him a leader in service to America.
This Sammies honoree was originally recognized as a finalist for Federal Employee of the Year. As of 2004, nominations are no longer accepted directly for Federal Employee of the Year. Instead, all finalists each year are considered eligible for their medal category and Federal Employee of the Year.