This week we gathered in New York City to celebrate the life of Jerome Hauer, a titan in the field of emergency management. Jerry was a mentor, colleague, and friend of mine, and so many others in the emergency management community. At the ceremony, leaders from New York’s bravest and finest offered moving tributes to Jerry.
It was surreal hearing the stories.
It seemed like just yesterday I was with Jerry in New York City honoring another public safety leader. In December 2001, we gathered at Chief Ray Downey’s funeral. Chief Downey, like Jerry, was a household name in our community. Ray had been the Chief of Special Operations for FDNY, and at his funeral, Jerry was overcome by emotion as then-FDNY Commissioner Tom Von Essen eulogized Ray. Now we were remembering Jerry. Reflecting after this week’s ceremony, Von Essen shared, “Jerry was a special man. Quite a legacy.” A legacy indeed.
Anytime Jerry mentioned his NYC experience, the name Bill Bratton was sure to follow. Former NYPD Commissioner Bratton eulogized Jerry at the ceremony, noting Jerry had called him a “brother” when they last saw each other at Jerry’s bedside shortly before he passed. He and Jerry had met in 1995 when Bratton was police commissioner, and Jerry had just been named NYC’s first OEM director. Bratton said they entered that first meeting as “Commissioner” and “Director” and left as lifelong friends, “Bill” and “Jerry.”
Bratton noted how pleased Jerry would be to see the combined FDNY and NYPD honor guard at his ceremony. At OEM Jerry had worked for years to facilitate coordination between the public safety agencies, and for this, was bestowed the unique honor of being named both Honorary Police Commissioner and Fire Commissioner. He is the only individual to have received both of these distinctions.
Bratton succinctly described Jerry as “A man for all emergencies.”
Former FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro, Jerry’s right-hand man Billy Cullen, and former OEM Director Larry Knafo also shared memorable experiences and descriptions of Jerry, such as “It was Jerry’s way or the Long Island Expressway,” “He made emergencies manageable,” and “He was the Master of Disaster.”
Even in the very temple where we commemorated Jerry, he had left his mark. Jerry was on the scene of the 5-alarm fire that nearly destroyed Central Synagogue in 1998. He spent the next three years helping rebuild the temple, which reopened just days before 9/11 and served the community on that fateful day.
In addition to his role at NYC OEM, Jerry’s leadership roles at the federal and state levels were equally notable. In the wake of 9/11, he was the first to lead the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In that role, he shepherded the HHS’s post-9/11 efforts and managed the public health response to the Anthrax attacks.
He had earlier served as the Director of Emergency Management for the State of Indiana and later became Commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. Between his stints of public service, he held several private sector roles, including working with me at George Washington University. Getting lunch on campus with Jerry was always a highlight of my day. He had seemingly limitless war stories, and I felt like I was right there with him for the multitude of crises he had managed.
Mike Byrne was among the many friends present at Jerry’s ceremony. Mike was a decorated FDNY firefighter who went on to hold several FEMA leadership roles. I always cherished the opportunity to be around Mike and Jerry as they recounted their experiences from their New York days. Mike and his FDNY brothers were still telling their stories on the sidelines of the service, but now without Jerry’s color commentary.