I’m an emergency manager and still in my twenties. It strikes people as odd; so much so that they feel the need to mention it — “You’re really young...” You don’t say.
Like most of the people in the field, I started in emergency response. When I graduated high school in 2001, I became a firefighter in Prince George’s County, Md. I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right away, when a plane flew into the Pentagon on 9/11. My engine company was the first suppression crew to enter the interior from the courtyard. We went from room to room, extinguishing fire and sawing out the Kevlar-lined windows to ventilate. There were bodies everywhere and pieces of the airplane in the water that boiled on the floor.
A District of Columbia Fire Department lieutenant asked me how old I was.
I told him, “Old enough to be a fireman.”
After a few years I got anxious for new challenges. I enlisted in the Army as a medic, but was unsatisfied with the conventional forces. I graduated the Ranger Indoctrination Program, then the Special Operations Combat Medic course, a six month intensive that teaches “unconventional medicine for unconventional warfare.” Just before my first deployment to Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, my first sergeant asked me, “Did your mom say it was OK for you to go to war?”
I finished my enlistment and considered traditional college, but couldn’t fathom being around 18-year-olds who had never been shot at. Then a friend introduced me to emergency management. I saw in it exactly what I longed for but hadn’t been able to put into words — the urgency of response and the freedom to create and influence. I started a bachelor’s program, and was hired to help develop the Metropolitan Medical Response System in Montgomery County, Md. I learned the ins and outs of civilian health care, and the weird bureaucratic dance the private sector does with the public sector. I eventually got a permanent position as a hospital emergency manager, and today continue the dance myself.
When I looked at it from the outside, becoming an emergency manager seemed to be a culminating event to a long career: After 20-odd years learning what’s wrong with the system, you got into emergency management and hoped to make it better. However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that if you already have a whole career under your belt, you may not have the same burning desire to stick out the time it takes to make those improvements.
I think I’m at the tail end of emergency management being a field you stumble into, though. It’s grown beyond its place as an accoutrement to emergency services, and I feel that its position as a true profession is the start of a new era. From where I sit, I feel those who have spent an entire career doing this can influence those of us who have an entire career before us, to carry on the legacy and show us how to create our own.
My co-workers — and those I’m competing against for jobs — can point to the past to show all they’ve done. The last 10 years have yielded quite a few accomplishments for me, but they lack the long-term knowledge that professional tenure provides. To make up for it, I — and those like me — have to work harder, learn faster and push ourselves to catch up to the “traditional” emergency manager. Youth gives you the drive to accomplish great things. With the empowerment of others’ experiences and the motivation of our youth, I think even greater things can be had.
Andy Moffitt is the emergency manager for Calvert Memorial Hospital in Maryland. (And he’s 28 years old.)