Published: November 16, 2023
BARTOW, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2023) – Polk County employee Burt McKee will be honored by the Florida Division of Emergency Management/State Emergency Response Commission on Jan. 17, 2024, for his work protecting Polk’s residents from hazardous materials. But don’t try to tell McKee that receiving the Thomas Yatabe Award is an achievement he has earned alone, or that he deserves the credit.
“My job is about relationships,” said McKee, who has served as the county’s Environmental Regulatory Coordinator since 2015 after a lengthy career as a Polk County firefighter. “Partnerships are what make things work well. It’s amazing to see what can happen when people come together to work as a team.”
The Thomas Yatabe Award recognizes outstanding contributions in hazardous materials planning or response. McKee will be recognized at the 2024 SERC Meeting/2024 Hazmat Symposium.
McKee ensures that hazardous material spills/dump sites in Polk County are cleaned up safely, and he works to prevent incidents from occurring. His approach, whether he’s interacting with large businesses addressing a significant chemical spill or homeowners dealing with paint cans dumped in a yard, is typically one of education and cooperation.
“We want industry and jobs in Polk County,” McKee said. “We want people to enjoy their property. So, we’d rather educate than punish to achieve compliance when we can.”
McKee is committed to keeping Polk County safe, and to saving residents money. In fact, he’s been known to handle things himself. McKee once came upon 200 small used propane tanks dumped on a roadside. Rather than calling a contractor to handle the tanks – which would have cost the county money – McKee loaded the tanks onto his personal truck and transported them to the county’s Household Hazardous Waste facility.
McKee regularly works with government agencies at the state and local level, often visiting sites at the request of organizations like the Floria Department of Emergency Management. He also works with Polk County divisions such as a Code Enforcement and Emergency Management, and with local businesses and homeowners. His role is to facilitate the cleanup of hazardous materials.
“This award is a recognition of the work Burt does for the people of Polk County and the State,” said Polk County Deputy Manager Ryan Taylor. “He has a reputation as an expert, and this is just additional confirmation that Polk County has one of the best.”