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FEMA’s No. 2 official returning to Boston

FEMA official Richard Serino (left), President Obama, and FEMA chief Craig Fugate at a 2012 Hurricane Sandy briefing.Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Richard Serino is coming home.

Serino, widely considered a founding father of Boston Emergency Medical Services, has been the No. 2 man at the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 2009. He is leaving the agency next month.

“It's been great,'' Serino said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But it’s time to come home.’’

Serino, 59, was part of a wave of emergency management professionals put into leadership positions at FEMA following its widely criticized response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster.

As FEMA’s chief of operations, Serino worked closely with FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, who led disaster relief programs in Florida before taking on the top federal disaster response job the same year as Serino.


Serino said it would be up to others to determine what his legacy at FEMA will be. But among the programs and improvements he played a role in creating is FEMA Corps, which provides annual stipends to people between 18 and their 20s who respond to disasters around the country for one year. After one year of service to the country, they are paid $6,500 towards college loans or tuition.

He also said he is proud that FEMA has reoriented the way it views disaster relief. Instead of a top-down approach, Serino said, planning and responses are designed as if they were being viewed “through the eyes of a survivor.’’

“Survivor-centric is what we do, and how we do it’’ at FEMA now, he said.

As he has been for many years, Serino was at the finish line for the Boston Marathon this year, but left about 15 minutes before two bombs were set off, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others. He rushed back to the finish line and watched as the EMS first responders, other public safety employees, and citizens rushed to help.


“They did an unbelievable, amazing job that day,’’ Serino said of Boston EMS and other first responders who stepped in to help complete strangers. “They really saved lives. They made a huge difference. I couldn’t have been more proud of the people I used to work with.’’

While he once provided direct first aid to the wounded and the injured as a long-time paramedic in Boston, Serino’s role during the aftermath of the bombing was to serve as a conduit of information between the city, federal law enforcement, federal emergency responders, and the White House.

Boston mayor-elect Martin Walsh has set up a transition team and a website where prospective employees can submit their resumes. With a laugh, Serino said he had not applied for a job at Boston City Hall, a place familiar to him through his years as a leader of emergency medical services in the city.

“I actually don’t know yet what I am going to do,’’ said Serino, who has commuted to Washington from his home on the South Shore since 2009.

Serino noted that his duties included oversight of FEMA’s $25 billion budget and responding to disasters all over the country. He said he had been at the scenes of devastating tornados and hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and even an earthquake-created tsunami in American Samoa.

Serino said he did not remember every single disaster he has been to, but does remember the survivors he has met along the way. He recalled being in Rainville, Ala., after it was destroyed by a tornado. A resident, standing in front of the crumpled wreck of his home, urged Serino to go help somebody else that was worse off, he said.


“That is something I have heard over and over again from different people around the country, almost everywhere I went … neighbors helping neighbors,’’ Serino said. “That’s what helped make Boston great and it’s what helps make our country great. That’s something I’ve seen coast to coast.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.