Careers in Public Safety – Fire, Rescue, 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.

ron bowserRecently, UMUC Public Safety Course Chair and Adjunct Faculty Ron Bowser answered questions about career trends and opportunities in fire, rescue, and emergency services. With 43 years of public safety experience and 40 years of educating public safety professionals, Bowser currently is the course chair for the Introduction to Public Safety Administration and Contemporary Public Safety Practices at UMUC. He also teaches the Fire Service Administration and Public Safety Administration programs.

Retiring from the University of Maryland, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute as Manager of the Institute Development Section with responsibility for curriculum development and test development, Bowser spent 15 years as a regional faculty to deliver training to career and volunteer emergency services departments in a multi-county region.

As a 20+ year member in a volunteer EMS/rescue department serving in all offices and positions including Chief of the department, Bowser is also the Academy Curriculum manager for the Prince William County (VA) Department of Fire and Rescue with responsibility for curriculum development, test development and administration and training accreditation program compliance.

Q. How has technology changed public safety with regards to fire, rescue and emergency services?

A. Many of the same technology changes that have occurred in our daily lives have also impacted the public safety delivery. 911 call systems were landline only.  The calls were received by a telecommunicator that dispatched the appropriate emergency personnel and equipment by radio transmission after manually searching for the appropriate dispatch information.  All response communications were done with the same radio system.  Responding units used map books to identify the more direct route to respond to the emergency call.

 Those systems are still there but have been enhanced by improving technology.  Calls for assistance are now received from cell phones, via text messages various other wireless means.  Enhanced 911 (E911) systems today will automatically tell the telecommunicator the location of the call.  Computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems provide the appropriate level of response information for the call.  Geographic information systems (GIS) make this possible.  Most emergency response equipment has a computer on board and most of the response data is communicated via the computer and less verbally.  Map books have been replaced by GPS and dispatch information. 

 Additionally, there is research that makes it possible to track the location of firefighters as they operate on the emergency scene.  There is also research that makes it possible to monitor the physical health of responders during operations.  These are major steps forward to improve the safety of the operation.

Technology also is enhancing the training environment.  Fire and smoke-flow modeling programs allow us to predict what will happen during a fire and to adapt operational plans as a result.  Computer-driven patient care simulators allow paramedics to interact with a “patient” that responds to the treatments they provide.  Again, this happens in real-time so the feedback and decision-making requirements are very similar to what they will experience in the field.  Many of the training materials are also available as interactive electronic apps that may be accessed and used by students wherever they may be.

 Q. What career paths could one pursue working in public safety, specifically in fire and rescue and/or emergency services?

A. Traditionally, when you mention public safety, law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical services are what come to mind. Those core functions have grown to include many other areas as well.  Hazardous materials teams and technicians respond to incidents involving spills or any escape of chemicals or other dangerous substances.  Emergency management is responsible for planning, preparedness and mitigation of community risks.   Homeland security may work with emergency management to ensure community safety.  Information technology also plays an increasing role in public safety with the introduction of computer aided dispatch, geographic information systems, training simulation and safety research into the industry.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in public safety? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. I got into public safety quite by accident. I was a political science and history major that planned to attend law school.  I took a break from school and joined the local volunteer rescue squad that was just beginning and took an emergency medical technician – ambulance (EMT-A) class and I was hooked.  The service we were providing was so much greater than what was previously available and the contribution to the community was very satisfying.  Although I did not know it at the time, this was going to be my career.  I started teaching EMT-A classes a couple years later and found an even greater sense of giving back to the area by sharing my knowledge with new students to serve more communities.  While I still enjoyed the response aspect of it, my true passion became education and training.  I was an adjunct with the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute for many years before going to work for them full-time.  That background led me to my current position with Prince William County, VA.  While the path may have been accidental, the career has been very rewarding personally.

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

A. Early in my career I learned that one person can make a huge impact in another person’s or stranger’s life. If the situation is bad enough for the person to call 911, they are probably involved in a very difficult situation or at least something they do not know how to deal with.  The public safety provider’s initial interaction with this person helps them through their immediate situation and sets the tone for the recovery process.  It is important to realize the impact we can have as an individual on someone else’s life.

Q. What personality and character traits must public safety professionals working in fire and rescue and/or emergency services professionals possess?

A. There has to be a desire to help and to make life better for individuals and society. As a responder, you may be exposed to very graphic, violent incidents and examples of man’s inhumanity to man. These incidents may have an impact on you personally but it is also important to try to separate them from your personal life.  Realize and accept that nothing you could have done would have prevented it from happening.  This may be easier said than done.  Take advantage of the counseling and employee assistance programs that are available.

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

A. Never pass up the opportunity to learn something someone wants to teach you. Budget realities are leading to the downsizing of many public safety organizations.  The more knowledge, skills and abilities you have learned through training programs, internships and experience will make you more valuable to an organization. Stay current and never stop learning. Technology is changing rapidly and those changes are going to become part of public safety. Make sure you are part of it.

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

A. Whether you are new to the field or are currently working in public safety, my advice is the same. Never pass up the opportunity to learn something new.  As technology advances, it is increasingly important to stay current with your industry.  Read the literature.  Attend local, regional or national trade shows events.  Participate in webinars.  Network with other professionals in the field.  Never stop learning.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni currently working or entering public safety?

A. I was very fortunate throughout my career to have some very good mentors. If you are entering the field, search out those experienced individuals that can help guide through your career. If you have been active in public safety, give back and help mentor the new members as they begin their careers.

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.