Elizabeth Schwaner

Who are first responders?

There are several types of first responders, including police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel (like paramedics and EMTs), and emergency managers. They work in a variety of jobs and for a range of organizations, including police and fire departments; ambulance services; disaster response companies; and local, state, national, and international emergency response divisions and units.

What do first responders do?

First responders are the people that show up first when emergency situations arise. They assess the situation and act quickly to protect people, animals, property, communities and more, whether that be through administering medical attention, putting out a fire, or coordinating and directing operations.

Important skillsets for success as a first responder

Beyond the specialized training that each first responder completes to learn how to respond to emergencies – like how to splint a leg, operate a firehose, or deescalate a tense situation – there are broader soft skills that all first responders need to advance their career and more effectively serve their organizations and communities.

Problem solving and creative thinking

All first responders know that emergency situations never happen like they do in a textbook or guide. Effective emergency response requires quick thinking and creative problem solving when things go awry.

Media and communication skills

First responders must be able to communicate with both victims on scene and with the public to explain what happened and how they’ve addressed or are addressing the situation – think of news interviews featuring firefighters describing how a fire started and how they extinguished it. To build trust with their community and to ensure that the public is informed on how first responders will ensure their safety, polished media and communication skills are key for any first response team leader or operations manager to develop.

Policy analysis and evaluation

Analyzing existing policies and how they could be improved to better protect community members’ health and safety is an essential piece of taking emergency response careers to the next level. First responders with critical thinking and evaluation skills can quickly advance to managerial and directorial roles when they apply these skills to developing emergency response guides, contingency plans, and communications strategies.

Project design, planning, and implementation

Like policy analysis skills, developing project design capabilities allow first responders to move into management roles. These skillsets allow first responders to develop safety plans in advance of emergencies and to carry them out more effectively when emergency situations occur, which better protects the community and their fellow first responders.

Leadership and management

Perhaps most importantly, first responders who want to advance in their careers must possess the leadership skills to motivate their team, make intelligent management decisions, and make their work more impactful.

A passion for serving your community

Admittedly, passion is not a skill or something you can be taught. But those who commit their lives to public service by becoming first responders must have a passion for the difficult and immensely important work they do. And they should be committed to sustainably serving others and the environment.

So you have the passion. How can you develop these other necessary skills?

The Carsey School of Public Policy offers three community-centered master’s programs that can enhance the existing skills of first responders and help take their careers to the next level – and the new First Responder Education Award program makes these opportunities attainable for all those who serve our communities. The Master in Public Policy, Master in Community Development, and Master of Public Administration programs each offer unique courses and experiential learning opportunities that will strengthen and deepen all the key skillsets listed above to help you advance your first responder career.

  Master in Public Policy (MPP)

The MPP program at Carsey enables students to become leaders in the policy and advocacy arenas. MPP students graduate with polished skills in policy analysis, strategic communication, and more.

Problem solving and creative thinking

Core MPP classes teach students critical thinking skills to develop tomorrow’s solutions to today’s problems. Students practice creative thinking to develop policy solutions for addressing societal needs, which will help first responders to expand their capacity to creatively solve issues as they arise.

Media and communication skills

The Strategy and Communication track of the MPP program teaches students to effectively communicate complex issues to public audiences – an essential skill for first responders.

Policy analysis and evaluation

The MPP program instills both quantitative and qualitative analysis skills through core courses focusing on policy research, evaluation, and practice, which enables first responders to transition to higher level roles.

Project design, planning and implementation

MPP students put their project design skills to the test through a capstone project they design and implement from start to finish. The capstone is ideal practice for first responders looking to serve in an emergency planning capacity. Additionally, each MPP student completes an internship in their area of interest, allowing students another opportunity to practice project development while exploring areas of interest.

  Online Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Carsey’s online MPA program, with options for both mid-career and new professionals, advances student leadership skills in the public and nonprofit sectors.

Leadership and management

The online MPA program prepares the public service leaders of tomorrow. Students learn how to manage and encourage their teams, an essential skill for first responders pursuing manager-level roles. “The MPA program aligned well with my career goal of continuing my development as both a leader and a community official,” says MPA alum Robert Buxton ‘19G, the Fire Chief of Hudson, New Hampshire.

Project design, planning, and implementation

As a culminating experience, MPA students are challenged with a real-world problem in public administration. Drawing upon their knowledge, skills, and tools developed throughout their MPA program, students do a deep dive into the issue and propose their recommended solution, allowing first responders to hone and practice their analytical project skills.

  Online Master in Community Development (MCD)

Carsey’s online MCD program empowers working professionals to advance their skills and careers in community engagement and leadership.

Problem solving and creative thinking

Carsey’s MCD program empowers students to creatively solve the problems that communities face - an essential function of first responders. Core courses teach students the integrative approaches to community development, and a long-term capstone project enables students to apply their knowledge and skills to solve issues within their community.

Policy analysis and evaluation

Several core MCD courses focus on how community leaders develop and evaluate policy and monitor project impacts, which are foundational skillsets for those who coordinate emergency response and create emergency plans and policies.

Project design, planning, and implementation

The MCD’s long-term capstone project gives students the opportunity to dive deeply into planning and executing community-level projects that will have real impact on the people it involves. First responders have an enormous impact on their community. Having the opportunity to design, implement, manage, and evaluate a project under the careful guidance of expert faculty can help build confidence and hone the skills essential for first responders looking to become managers and planners.

Leadership and management

One of the central goals of the MCD program is to enable students to become leaders in their community and in their organization. First responders are already community leaders, but the MCD’s courses in fiscal and organizational management can transfer these concepts to inter-organizational management as well.

  If you’re a first responder who has been considering advancing your career with a graduate degree, visit the Carsey School of Pubic Policy’s First Responders Education Award website today to see how you can invest in your future. The Carsey School of Public Policy thanks you for your service.