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Politics and Partisanship: The Effects on America’s Emergency Services


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

Ever since the creation of political parties, we have encountered political battles. Until recent history, government functions were more about give and take.

This give and take, the spirit of compromise, was at its best for organizations that served the people, such as emergency management and emergency services. But now, partisan politics has become a detriment to emergency management and emergency service organizations.

Politics Has Interfered with Citizens’ Need for Safety

Levies and tax appropriations were always supported by political parties. That is the first function of government – to provide safety for the governed.

When citizens do not feel safe, that violates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Politicians who cause this feeling of being unsafe are often voted out of office.

Today, thanks to an omnipresent media and the divisions in this country, people will stand behind their party of choice, regardless of the decisions that party makes. The widespread publicity of social media has also influenced this adherence to party decisions.

Current Political Parties Do Not Have Clear Vision for Emergency Services

The Republican Party believes in fiscal conservativism, but supports the use of force by the military. The Democratic Party believes in a more liberal approach to social needs and a larger government compared to the Republican Party’s positions.

Neither party has a clear-cut stance on emergency management and emergency services. Many emergency management organizations are functions of the government. These organizations often need to increase their size, especially since they are a critical element to maintaining public safety.

Some politicians want emergency management agencies to increase their ability to provide public service. However, they also want to simultaneously reduce the size of these organizations, limiting the services they provide to the public.

Political Battles Are Discouraging Potential Emergency Management Employees

No one enters the emergency management and emergency services field to make millions. Most employees are attracted to the job to help people, not the pay.

Most emergency management personnel would apply for the job even if it paid a little more than minimum wage, because they find the work rewarding. But they also need to earn a living wage and take care of their families.

Emergency management employees need job stability and insurance to provide care and money to themselves and their dependents. While salaries in some government agencies have outpaced pay in other private sectors, that has often occurred only through collective bargaining and arbitration.

Rather than showing accomplishments and leadership, politics today has become a shaming game. Government agencies can quickly become the targets of a politician who uses an organizational issue to shame an emergency management organization for its behavior.

Consequently, potential leaders within an emergency management organization are reluctant to step up, become leaders and and do the right thing lest they become the next political target. As a result, they do only what is required in the policy manual.

Organizations traditionally hire smart, outgoing people because no one can police every situation. We need people who think and who are willing to go outside the norm to provide excellent service to their communities.

Whether it’s a politician complaining about a fire truck idling at a grocery store or the current FBI debacle, this kind of public scrutiny reduces great employees to mere robots. They become programmed to follow only organizational policies, rather than focusing on improving their organization or service to the community.

Encouraging The Next Generation of Emergency Managers

As increasing numbers of government employees retire, we have trouble finding quality applicants to replace them. It’s a personnel issue that holds true in nearly every government organization. While current unemployment rates are low and many people seek higher-paying jobs, the current generation of emergency managers did not enter this field for the pay and benefits.

Is the next generation looking at emergency management salaries as insufficient for their needs? Or does emergency management have a public perception problem that is deterring people from entering this career field?

Let’s say you tell a 16-year-old high school student that he or she could become a police officer and honorably serve the public. However, if an incident occurred and that same student faced two or three years of public scrutiny and public riots, would that student still sign up for the job? Many students would not.

Government Organizations Need Support and Involvement

Without sustainable police forces, fire services and the military, the peace we have come to cherish in America would not last long. We owe it to our children and our families to focus on making emergency management organizations the best they can be, so that future generations will live in a society that protects their safety.

What are you doing to help support our emergency management organizations?

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.