Fire and Emergency Management

Many years ago, those in public service questioned the feasibility of the fire service and emergency medical services existing within the same agency. Most metropolitan fire departments and quite a few that are not in urban areas have identified benefits from shared labor, economies of scale and collaborative response efforts. Today, it is not at all unusual to see fire and EMS in the same station, even wearing the same uniform. What about emergency management? What exactly is it and where does it belong? Here are my observations. image

Emergency management owes its origins to the cold war and the threat of nuclear war, where “Emergency Management” was then known as “Civil Defense.” Preparedness was the primary consideration as it was thought that other phases were not necessary after a nuclear blast. At the end of the cold war, the field was often referred to as “Emergency Preparedness” and began to consider other hazards, mainly natural hazards such as weather events, earthquakes, etc. Today, emergency management is a more holistic field that encompasses and considers four distinct phases: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.


Preparedness involves the planning for hazards that may affect a particular community. Communities must plan for the hazard type, vulnerability, probability, and consequence. For example, while those in Oklahoma are not concerned about the potential for tropical cyclones, we, in the Carolinas, watch them very closely in the Atlantic basin. The probability of a hurricane forming is high as we see several every year. The vulnerability of the Carolina coast is high — definitely way above Oklahoma — and we have seen at least one every year for the last several years, and the consequences can be disastrous as we have seen in Hurricane Florence this year. Since we know that tropical cyclones are probable, we are vulnerable, and the consequences can be severe, preparedness involves formulating a plan to protect the community from the hazard.


Mitigation is the next phase and involves lessening the effects of the hazard on the community. This can occur pre-impact or post-impact. Pre-impact mitigation may involve building a wall or drainage systems to prevent storm surge from damaging homes. Post-impact mitigation may involve providing shelter space for community members that are displaced from their homes on a more than temporary basis. Mitigation is not always possible and when we cannot move the hazard away from the people, it will often be necessary to move the people away from the hazard.


Response is the phase that considers when the hazard actually occurs. For tropical cyclones, we normally get quite a number of days for response. Response efforts may involve transportation of those without the means to safe shelter areas and providing shelter to those with special medical needs. Evacuations may last more than a day or two and could involve a number of law enforcement agencies. However, some hazards afford us very little time to prepare our response. Large fires, mass casualty incidents, tornadoes and earthquakes all occur without notice and have the potential to require massive responses. Whether short or long notice hazards, response efforts can usually involve many emergency support functions (ESF). While the numbers vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, they address similar aspects of emergency management.

ESF-1 (Transportation) manages the status of roadways and the movement of people around the community.
ESF-2 (Communications) ensures that all ESF personnel can communicate during response operations.
ESF-3 (Public Works) deals with maintaining infrastructure.
ESF-4 (Fire Service) responds to fire related emergencies.
ESF-5 (Planning) involves compiling incident action plans.
ESF-6 (Mass Care) provides for the sheltering of vulnerable populations.
ESF-7 (Logistics) ensures that other ESF’s have the resources they need to fulfill their missions.
ESF-8 (Medical) considers the pre-hospital and hospital care as well as the sheltering of community members with special medical needs.
ESF-9 (Rescue) provides search and rescue services to the community.
ESF-10 (Hazardous Materials) considers the fixed and transportation based hazardous materials sources present throughout the community.
ESF-11 (Mass Feeding) ensures that the community maintains adequate food and potable water supplies.
ESF-12 (Utilities) manages the power, water, and sewer services throughout the community.
ESF-13 (Law Enforcement) provides for public safety and security.
ESF-14 (Long Term Community Recovery and Damage Assessment) considers recovery and the all-important damage assessment necessary for a federal disaster declaration.
ESF-15 (Public Information) ensures that the community receives accurate and timely information pre- and post-impact.
ESF-16 (Emergency Traffic Management) coordinates the evacuation of personnel using roadways.
ESF-17 (Animal Services) considers animals that belong to evacuees or those that otherwise need protection during or after the hazard.
ESF-18 (Donated Goods and Volunteer Services) handles the physical sorting and distribution of donated property and the coordination of any volunteer personnel and organizations.
ESF-19 (Military Support) integrates the many resources that the U.S. Military possesses and how it can assist with local response missions.
ESF-20/21/24 (Business and Industry) considers how local business and industry can restore the employment opportunities to the members of the community.

Each ESF has a number of agencies operating within it and some agencies, depending on the size and scope of their work, operate in multiple ESF’s. The field of emergency management acts as the “hub” for all of the ESF “spokes.” Coordination of all ESFs before, during and after an emergency requires a place where everyone can collaborate. This usually occurs at the emergency operations center (EOC). While this communication and collaboration is important during the response phase, it becomes paramount during the last phase, recovery.


Recovery involves returning the community to normal, or perhaps the “new” normal. For example, during response, emergency management may coordinate all of the engines under ESF-4 (Fire Service) to battle a large wildfire. During recovery, emergency management’s role is to coordinate all available mass feeding resources to ensure everyone that has lost their homes during the wildfire are provided with food and water. Recovery also begins to consider the financial aspects of preparation and response activities. These costs can add up quickly and in best case scenario, 25 percent are likely to be the responsibility of the local jurisdiction.

So, how do fire and emergency management relate? Proactive fire agencies consider risks to their citizens beyond fires, which could be considered acute risks. Proactive fire agencies also consider chronic risks such as medical conditions through community paramedic programs. It is this consideration of acute and chronic risks to the community that makes fire and emergency management closer than most think. Where does emergency management belong? There are a number of fire-rescue agencies that direct emergency management. In most cases, this is an excellent fit. The many agencies under the many emergency support functions all have different needs and different missions. This requires someone to quickly handle multiple requests from multiple agencies and assemble them into a single incident action plan that best uses the available resources for the greatest good of the community. The department I work in has a tremendously talented group of incident managers. When assembled, they can form an incident management team that can effectively and efficiently compile logistical requests, planning initiatives, and operational concerns to best serve our community. The many agencies under each emergency support function are also contributive and perform excellently together toward the common goal. Fire service leaders are often well versed in incident management and creating incident action plans; however, regardless of which agency is leading emergency management efforts, all participants must understand that despite our different missions and the various agencies involved, we all work for the community. In this manner, we must all help our community members prepare for hazards, mitigate the potential consequences of a disaster, respond when necessary to our citizens, and assist them in recovery efforts when necessary.

Be safe and do good.

Dr. David A. Greene has over 25 years of experience in the fire service and is currently the deputy chief with Colleton County (S.C.) Fire-Rescue. He holds a PhD in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University and an MBA degree from the University of South Carolina. He is a certified Executive Fire Officer through the National Fire Academy, holds the Chief Fire Officer Designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence, holds Member Grade in the Institution of Fire Engineers, is an adjunct instructor for the South Carolina Fire Academy and is a Nationally Registered Paramedic. He can be reached at

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.