Heroes & Humanitarians: A Salute to Stewards of Public Service


August 18, 2022

When disaster strikes, there are those who run towards it, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way to protect and save the lives of others. Many times, these deeds go unnoticed, but on World Humanitarian Day, we recognize the courage, kindness, and selflessness of men and women who help those in need. Whether at home or abroad, these efforts are critical to sustaining human life.

Humanitarianism is defined as an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and aid other humans to reduce suffering and improve the conditions of humanity. But by nature, this work is often stressful and can take a major toll on one’s mental and physical health. For instance, members of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) have dedicated their lives to developing and investing in solutions to problems they hope never happen.

Emergency managers (EMs) are the call you hope you never have to make. But while you’re hoping for the best and expecting the worst, you’re also counting on someone to have a plan, whether it’s for preparation, health and safety, or evacuations. So, as long as there are humans, communities, and people living on this planet, EMs will have emergencies to plan for and respond to. The question is how to effectively prepare, respond, and prevent more disasters in the future. 

- Elizabeth Armstrong, CEO, IAEM

IAEM was formed in 1952 and developed a network for EMs that has grown the profession through educational development, sharing of expert advice, and the creation of the profession’s preeminent certification program. IAEM’s members have been instrumental in analyzing and preparing damage assessments before,  during, and after a disaster. They are also responsible for reviewing and revising external emergency plans for local, state, and federal organizations as needed. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, emergency managers continued to prepare plans and procedures in response to natural disasters and crises (while also managing plans and responses for COVID) and helped lead the response during and after emergencies in collaboration with local public safety officials, non-profit organizations, and government agencies including emergency medical service (EMS) professionals.

Like emergency managers, firefighters follow selfless, yet difficult career paths that often involve risking their own safety and wellbeing to provide aid to communities. According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC’s) CEO and Executive Director, Rob Brown, both volunteer, and career firefighters are being called on more than ever to respond to an increasing number of “all-hazard,” incidents. While many volunteer firefighters typically respond from home, firefighters – both career and volunteer, typically have long work schedules, often spending 24 or 48 hours on duty. It’s not uncommon for firefighters to eat and sleep at the station as part of a shift with their respective team members, as well as respond to multiple hazards. During these shifts, firefighters are no longer just responding to fires - they are responding to a wide variety of incidents and hazards.

In recent years, however, career firefighters’ job responsibilities have changed to become their communities’ “all-hazard,” toolbox, equipped to respond to a wide variety of incidents and disasters. In fact, most firefighters are dual-trained as EMS (Emergency Medical Service) providers, enabling the fire service industry to become the largest provider of community EMS in the United States. In addition to these responsibilities, firefighters are responsible for responding to the effects of natural disasters such as building collapses, and flood water rescue. Thanks to their training and expertise, firefighters have become the initial responders to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents, and other large-scale disasters that impact the communities they serve. Because of their instrumental role in their communities, it’s clear that firefighters provide essential public safety work.

We strive to put ourselves out of business, but ultimately, we are our communities’ toolbox. When a community faces a problem, the fire service is ready to lend our tools, our knowledge, our people, and our resources to those that need it most. Our goal as the IAFC is to support our local fire chiefs with their “all-hazards” missions and to provide leadership, education, and consistent, reliable, and trustworthy service to our members.

- Chief Rob Brown, CEO, Executive Director, IAFC

As civil servants have become more accessible and community-oriented, organizations like the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) have also emphasized the importance of creating, or maintaining, a strong, healthy relationship between civilians and their law enforcement, health, and safety professionals. The effectiveness of humanitarian work is closely tied to civilian trust, particularly when it comes to law enforcement officials. Communities that sometimes show resistance to aid, such as Indigenous or urban communities, have usually had long and complicated histories with law enforcement and aid officials that impact the building and maintenance of trust. The pandemic, high-profile cases like George Floyd, and other events have further contributed to the challenge and complexity of building trust with the public.

When you think of community heroes, you might think of firefighters running into burning buildings to save people’s lives. With law enforcement officials, attitudes are different. Given the decades of historic context, and the most recent global crisis [COVID-19], we know that policing must change. Although it’s a delicate and long process, with more education, training, empathy, and unity, CACP is confident that we can begin to raise the level of public confidence in law enforcement officials and set an example for countries around the world to follow in the future.

- Aviva Rotenberg, Executive Director, CACP

Fueled by compassion, empathy, and a willingness to help, humanitarian efforts must also strive to understand the context of the communities that it serves. As shown through IAEM, IAFC, and CACP’s missions, humanitarians ultimately aim to alleviate human suffering rather than aiming to be heroes, so as we look to the future of humanitarian work, let us all strive to keep that spirit alive.

About IAEM:
The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), with more than 6,000 members worldwide, is a non-profit professional organization representing emergency management and homeland security professionals for local communities, state and federal disaster officials, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and others involved in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from all types of disasters, including acts of terrorism. IAEM provides serves its members by providing information, networking, and development opportunities including access to the largest network of emergency management experts who can provide advice and assistance; the Certified Emergency Manager program; annual scholarships; a comprehensive monthly newsletter; educational conferences, webinars, and more.

About IAFC:
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide; our members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety policy.

About CACP:
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police was established in 1905 and represents approximately 1,300 police leaders from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, and municipal, transportation, and military police services across Canada. The Association is dedicated to supporting police professionals through innovative and inclusive police leadership to advance the safety and security of all Canadians.

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