Burning Man’s New ESD Leadership Team

World-Class Emergency Services
World-Class Emergency Services

Joseph Pred, founder of Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department andĀ longstanding Emergency Services Manager, moved on this year after 17 years of exemplary service. During his tenure, he surrounded himself with people who are now ready and able to step in and take on this critical role. The Playa Emergency Services Department (ESD) will continue to provide its renowned world class service to the citizens of Black Rock City, working under the leadership of Kate Gonnella, Ben Thompson and Red Grasso.

Kate Gonnella, ESD Administrative Chief
Kate Gonnella, ESD Administrative Chief

Kate Gonnella, a fourteen-year ESD veteran and formerly the Deputy Chief of Emergency Operations and Medical Branch Chief, will become Administrative Chief for ESD. Kate holds a masters degree in Clinical Leadership, with a background in Emergency Medicine and informatics forensics. Kate will act as the primary point of contact between ESD and other Burning Man departments, representing ESD on the Event Leadership Team, Operations Team and Burning Man interdepartmental meetings as necessary. Kate’s oversight will include resource management, planning, budgeting, human resources, social media, policies and procedures, and will provide guidance to the ESD leadership triad. Kate will be transitioning out of her role as Medical Chief to focus solely on her new role.

Ben Thompson, ESD Operations Chief
Ben Thompson, ESD Operations Chief

This will be Ben Thompson‘s sixteenth year on playa. He is one of the founders of the Black Rock City Volunteer Fire Department (BRCVFD), and has been a key organizer in the development of the now-beloved Station 3 Fire Camp. Ben has been Fire Chief in his home town of Glacier, Washington for 30+ years, is an EMS and Fire service instructor, and is winding down a career as a manager of large scale (like airports!) construction projects. As our new Operations Chief, Ben will have year round accountability and oversight over the Fire, Medical, Mental Health and Logistics Branches of ESD. Ben has already jumped headlong into maturing our current Incident Command System (ICS) model and will work with the branch chiefs to ensure we are fully prepared to deliver quality emergency services to the residents of Black Rock City.

Red Grasso, ESD Communications Chief
Red Grasso, ESD Communications Chief

Our new Communications Chief, Red Grasso joined ESD during his first burn in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Originally starting out as a firefighter coinciding with his profession, Red slowly moved into Dispatch with ESD and worked his way up from there, most recently serving as Assistant Chief of Emergency Operations and Dispatch Chief. In 2012, Red moved from North Carolina to St Louis and changed professions, now working on the technical side of public safety radios. Red brings diverse experience in public safety including serving on a federal medical team, committee work on regional interoperability, and incident responses from small local incidents to statewide events. Red will oversee the most active year-round branch in ESD. This branch works to develop, upgrade, and test our equipment to ensure high reliability on playa. Red will identify and develop a candidate for his current role as Dispatch Chief so he can focus his attention on this new, higher level Communications Branch Role.

We are updating the Burning Man ESD website to reflect these changes, but in the meantime it has all the information you could want about volunteering, contacts and all the other good ESD stuff.

We would like to express a huge thanks to Joseph who built ESD from nothing into what it is today and say Good Luck in your endeavors, we’re sure we’ll be seeing more of you in the future! And finally, we are extremely pleased and excited about new possibilities and the future, and want to thank Kate, Red and Ben for stepping up to the plate for BRC and ESD.

About the author: Burning Man

This is the official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Department.

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