Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Public Safety Careers: Looking Beyond the Horizon

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tracy Rickman, Ygnacio “Nash” Flores & Don Mason
November 10, 2023

Public safety careers in law enforcement, the fire services, EMS and the military offer many benefits related to serving the public. These include the altruism of helping one’s community, a good salary and benefits and early retirement. Due to the many stressors within these career fields, retirement for public safety servants is earlier than many other careers. Along with an early retirement is a shorter life expectancy, as indicated by several research studies.

A 2013 study by the Center for Disease Control’s Health and Human Services found that the years of potential life lost for law enforcement officers is 21 times larger than the general population. Vera found that correctional officers’ life expectancy is 59 years compared to the national average of 79 years. The PBS News Hour reported that firefighters’ average life span is ten years shorter than average. The Department of Veterans Affairs says the life expectancy for veterans ranges from 0.8 to 1.2 years shorter than the average life expectancy rates. The data on veterans covers all veterans who served the country for any amount of time.

These statistics, while serious, are currently being offset by increased attention to the health risks faced by public servants. Programs like mindfulness, mental health and wellness and the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022 are working to mitigate the risks of serving as public safety officers. The military has also increased its focus on mental health care for its service members and veterans. Recent trends on the increase in rates of cancer for firefighters throughout the country are indicative of the need to carefully consider one’s career choice.

Increasing the life expectancy of those in a public safety careers requires promoting healthy eating, exercise and education. The sedentary life pictured in the minds of retirees of the last century is an illusion of the past. Retirees now concentrate on maintaining active and enjoyable lifestyles beyond the horizon of retirement through a second career.  

Those retiring from public safety careers need to think about life beyond the horizon. Doing so requires preparation, especially if the goal is to increase revenue streams post-retirement. Using a 20-year career as an example, planning for a second career starts by the tenth year of service, at least. The challenge at hand involves the need to transition past career success into a civilian work environment. Serving as a police or fire chief or a senior enlisted or commissioned officer in the military does not guarantee employment after retirement. Being a leader in the public safety sector differs from many civilian work environments.

Knowing the differences between leading in public safety and the civilian world requires understanding that your particular type of leadership may not be appreciated, particularly in the current bipartisan world. Many civilians need to learn what a career in public safety entails or understand the language used. Movies and social media shape most perspectives of public safety careers. Countering the biases of a public safety career is done by reframing your experiences to reduce the aspects of perceived authoritarianism.  

Transitioning into a post-career is enhanced through higher education. Possessing an advanced degree adds currency and relevancy to a successful career. An advanced degree adds authority to your insights and opinions. In a world where many people rely on a degree as their main source of qualification, you better your chances with a solid career of leading, managing businesses and fiscal planning—skill sets that others have only studied and not achieved. Many will consider this a scholarly-practitioner viewpoint, as academic theory meets real world experiences.

Do not assume a potential employer values your career success as much as you do. Researching a potential employer aids you in framing your skills, knowledge and abilities to fit those of a future employer. An example is to use your experience managing a supply budget to manage finance and logistics within a corporate setting.

Public safety professionals should consider future endeavors early in their career. Although one may be able to retire comfortably on a pension and money saved over their career, one should consider the “what-if?” factor and plan early. Increasing the varied opportunities after time in public service can only be expressed if a person is prepared to meet the demands of the job market. Public servants answer the call of civic duty. There is no reason they should not pursue a second career that is rewarding and beneficial to society. Looking beyond the horizon is not an option, but rather it needs to be a primary focus for all public safety professionals.

Authors: Dr. Tracy Rickman is faculty at Tarleton State University. Dr. Ygnacio “Nash” Flores and Don Mason are faculty at Rio Hondo College.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *