Careers in Public Safety – Fire and Emergency Services

May is Public Safety month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s public safety experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

Recently, UMUC Adjunct Faculty David Lewis answered questions about career trends and opportunities in fire and emergency services.  Lewis is a professional emergency services
David Lewis headshot croppededucator, specializing in fire service leadership/management, homeland security, and public safety administration. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Studies from the University of Maryland University College, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence degree from the Joint Military Intelligence College. Lewis’ professional career has provided him with opportunities to serve in a variety of diverse positions related to the emergency services and homeland security. After 32 years of government service with the National Security Agency, David followed his love for the fire and emergency services in a new career direction. He was employed by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute for ten years as a full time faculty member. He followed that with a position at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC) as the Fire/Emergency Medical Services/Emergency Management Intelligence Analyst. This position allowed David to merge two successful careers; homeland security and emergency services. He retired from full-time employment in 2015 to spend more time in the classroom, currently holding adjunct faculty agreements with the National Fire Academy, the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and the University of Maryland University College.

Q. With the creation of the “See something, say something campaign,” anyone has the ability to report suspicious activity within a matter of seconds. How has homeland security and emergency services changed over the last ten years, especially with the advent of the internet and social media?

A. Because of changes in our global social environment, there has been cause for the integration of many of the public safety functions. As emergency services personnel, we can no longer consider ourselves just as protectors of the public from fire or injury. Our missions have expanded to include hazardous materials response, technical rescue, and disaster response (both natural and man made disasters). The global expansion of the internet and social media have compounded our challenges as information becomes immediate. This works both to the advantage and detriment of public safety. While we can employ internet communications media to aid in informing the public, it is often used by persons wishing to inflict harm by influencing public populations in a negative manner.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in homeland security and emergency services?

A. An individual should be cautious not to limit their educational opportunities in areas that would focus on a single career path. Often you will find that an employer is looking for an individual with diverse education and experience that can be applied in a multitude of positions related to planning, response, and recovery operations. Many opportunities exist in state, local, and federal governments, as well as in private industry, that challenge an individual to look across the spectrum at the effects of homeland security concerns on emergency services and public safety.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in both homeland security and emergency services? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. I started my career with the federal government using computer skills that I learned in high school and college. I expanded my career by moving into project management for the development of major computer and communications systems. But I always maintained my love for the fire service, serving as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in my spare time. When time came to retire from federal service, I found several opportunities to integrate my federal experience with my fire service experience. Soon after the events of 9/11/2001, I was given the opportunity to develop a statewide training program on terrorism planning and response. My position in fire service training also opened up doors to become an adjunct faculty member at UMUC.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. Some of my best career development experiences occurred when I was given the opportunities to manage and lead large projects for the federal government. This helped me develop leadership skills in managing people, projects, and budgets. I also had opportunities within my volunteer experience to lead as a command officer (Lieutenant, Captain, Chief) to use those same leadership capabilities to help advance the operational capabilities of my fire company.

Q. What personality and character traits must homeland security and emergency services professionals possess?

A. To be successful in homeland security and emergency services, an individual must be able to manage multiple tasks under stress, be able to prioritize resources, and identity the appropriate course of action in a given situation. This was particularly true for me in my fire services career since I routinely have experienced “leadership under fire” where decisions must be made that enable personnel to operate quickly yet safely to mitigate the hazard of the response. During my professional career as a project manager and as a division level manager, I often had to assess the impact of limited resources (time, money, people) on a project’s implementation and sometimes make a decision that was less than perfect but fit within the resource constraints.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering this field?

A. Your value will be based on a combination of education and experience. Make the effort in course selection towards your degree to provide a broad perspective on issues. Don’t take the easy way out in selecting elective courses. Make them meaningful and relative. Take every opportunity to put your education to practice, both in your routine lives but also in the academic environment. Take advantage of the COOP program to not only earn college credit but also acquire a vocational opportunity to gain experience and utilize your educational skills.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in either homeland security or emergency services, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing in their current organization and within the field?

A. Several years ago, UMUC initiated the Public Safety Administration (PSAD) program to help develop individuals with a broad perspective on issues in Emergency Management, Homeland Security, and Fire Service Administration. Take advantage of the blend in these disciplines to develop your own potential in these fields. Seek out opportunities in your work environment for assignment to projects that expand yours skills as well as demonstrate your potential to your employers. Identify areas for opportunity for improvement in your organization and communicate them to the senior decision makers, offering to serve as part of a task group to develop strategies for changing the course of direction to make the organization perform better and meet future needs of its customers and employees.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni currently working or entering homeland security and/or the emergency services profession?

A. Today’s job environment is drastically different from the one that existed when I started employment. Today’s employee must understand the need for diversity in education and experience. They must also continue to seek educational opportunities as the global marketplace and the technologies that support it are in constant change. Don’t be afraid to change course if the direction does nott seem right for you. Go back and get the training necessary for a job change and then seek out new opportunities. The doors are there for you, but they won’t always open themselves. You have to be the lighthouse to your future.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.