MPA Student Fights Fire with Safety Management

Hannah Ticoras
October 14, 2013

Ed Gaither headshot

From working in the field as a volunteer firefighter, to making policy changes as a public administrator, Ed Gaither's biggest concern is the management of the public's most serious crises.

Over summer 2013, Gaither, a second year Masters of Public Administration student, interned at the Wayne National Forest's Safety Services located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Gaither worked on many jobs, including building a radiation safety plan after a nuclear soil density gauge dropped in the lab and updating protocol on a type of GPS called Simplex Emergency Notification Device (SPOT). However, Gaither's biggest project was the Abandoned Structure Survey.

When the Wayne National Forest acquires new land, it also acquires any structures that are on that land. No one had visited these structures for over 30 years. Over the course of the summer, Gaither and his team drove 4,700 miles and walked 50 miles cross-country, visiting over 100 farm sites. The goal was to write a plan for each structure and to determine which sites were structurally unsound, and, therefore, a public liability. In order to destroy the hazardous buildings, the Forest Service tries to gives them to volunteer fire departments to burn for training purposes but also can enlist local National Guard Engineering units for demolition.

"[Working at Wayne] was one of those cathartic moments when you think, 'Wow, I belong here," Gaither said.

Gaither was laid off from his firefighting job in 2008. He then decided to attend college. Gaither created his own program based on his interests in firefighting and emergency management.

"We have these collegiate programs on the law enforcement side ... you can run that all the way to the doctorate and be a Dr. Cop. On the fire side, there is nothing like that," Gaither explained.

He graduated from Ohio University in spring 2012 with a Bachelor of Specialized Studies before starting in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs' MPA program in fall 2012. Gaither touts the excellent communication and management skills he gained in the MPA program, and appreciates the frank discussions he is able to have with faculty and staff.

This semester, Gaither sits in on the intro MPA class. He says he can remember the panic that beginners may have, but know that they will find their place as well as he did. He also hopes to help guide first year students through their acclimation to the MPA program.

"There are moments in the real world as a public administrator when you're going to have those moments when you just walk in the door and get punched in the face," Gaither explained. "Being able to cope with that is a good skill to possess."

As a student, public manager, and a firefighter, Gaither has proved his coping skills in the toughest of situations.