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Tribe hires Native American from Maine as head of emergency management

HOLLYWOOD – The Seminole Tribe has named Paul Downing its new director of emergency management. Will Latchford, the tribe’s head of public safety, made the announcement Dec. 14.

Emergency management is one of three departments under the public safety umbrella at the tribe, along with Seminole Fire-Rescue and the Seminole Police Department.

Downing, who is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Indian Township in Maine, is the first Native American to lead the department.

“He has demonstrated throughout his career his commitment to service in Indian Country and the United States,” Latchford said in his announcement. “[He] is an emergency response professional with more than 37 years of experience.”

Paul Downing (Courtesy Paul Downing)

Downing served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, retiring as a first sergeant. He is a graduate of the U.S. Emergency Management Institute (EMI) and the National Emergency Management Advanced Academy (NEMAA), both of which fall under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Downing’s specializations are in the areas of crisis/emergency and disaster management.

Downing, 56, was previously the emergency management director for the Passamaquoddy Tribe, where he was responsible for implementing all emergency management planning, mitigation, response coordination and post-disaster recovery efforts.

“He has demonstrated his innovative skills over the course of his career and I am confidant he will continue to while serving the Seminole Tribe of Florida in his new management role,” Latchford continued in the announcement.

‘My heart is in Indian Country’

Downing and his wife are new to Florida, but he said he’s been aware of the tribe for years – particularly after meeting Latchford at a United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) conference soon after Hurricane Irma hit the state in 2017. Downing was the chair for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security emergency services committee for USET and Latchford was giving officials an overview of the hurricane’s affect on the tribe.

Latchford soon learned about Downing’s experience and his efforts to push nationally for tribes to receive equitable emergency management funding. The two stayed in contact with each other for the next few years, occasionally meeting up at other USET meetings.

“He’d tell me I need to come visit Florida, kind of joking around, but then when the pandemic hit we had even more communications,” Downing said.

As time went on, Downing said he became more and more impressed with the tribe’s public safety programs and strategies.

“When you look at Indian Country as a whole, the most robust programs are Seminole,” he said. “Often the other tribes look to the Seminoles for guidance.”

Downing finally gave in to Latchford’s requests that he visit Florida, and last year he and his wife, a nurse, took the trip. Latchford gave them a tour of the Hollywood and Big Cypress reservations, and after many hours of discussion with his wife, Downing said the process of accepting the job began.

“I’m very humbled to work with the Seminoles. It’s a career progression and the best place to work,” Downing said.

Downing said that while the Passamaquoddy Tribe has about the same number of tribal members, a big difference is the Seminole Tribe’s geographic footprint across Florida.

“And hurricanes are a new phenomenon I’ll have to deal with,” he said.

However, Downing said that there are natural disaster events in Maine that mirror some of the effects of a hurricane – high winds, rain, fallen debris and so on.

“In emergency management a natural disaster is a natural disaster. You use many of the same response mechanisms,” he said.

And Downing is very familiar with tribal processes. He is a former Passamaquoddy tribal council member.

“My heart is in Indian Country. Tribes are inherently resilient, but how many tribes can say they’re unconquered? One. To be able to work for a community like that … what the Seminoles do resonates through the rest of Indian Country,” he said.

Downing has two sons and nine grandchildren, all currently living in Maine.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at