This edition of the Exchange features Duane Hagelgans, professor of emergency management within the Center for Disaster Research and Education at Millersville University.

Dr. Duane Hagelgans

Q: How long have you worked for Millersville University?

A: I have been an adjunct professor since 2007. This semester I began teaching as full-time faculty.

Q: How long have you been involved in the emergency management services?

A: I have been in the emergency services field for 33 years, specifically doing emergency management for more than 15 years.

Q: What drew you to this line of work?

A: I had a friend who was elected fire chief at a local volunteer fire company, and it seemed like something I would like to try to do. Once I began, I was immediately hooked on the concept of the emergency services and neighbor helping neighbor.

Q: What other positions do you hold in Lancaster, such as your role as the new commissioner of Blue Rock Fire Rescue? What organizations do you serve as a volunteer for?

A: President of the Lampeter-Strasburg High School boys soccer booster club; emergency management coordinator for Manor Township and Millersville Borough; volunteer for Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency; leadership team member for the South Central Task Force (SCTF), a regional emergency management task force; public information officer for the SCTF incident management team; life member of the Lancaster County hazardous material team; advisory board member for the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center; vice chairman of the Lancaster County emergency planning committee and volunteer for the American Red Cross.

Q: How do you juggle it all?

A: Prioritize and good time management. My son and his soccer team are always the most important thing on my list. I then make work my priority, with emergency situations taking priority when they occur. I am very fortunate that with the jobs I have held, my emergency service work and help to the community has been as important to my employers as it is to me. A good calendar on my phone helps too.

Q: You’ve taught emergency management courses for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). How does that experience differ from the courses you are teaching now at Millersville?

A: These are all very similar. The only real difference is that the DHS courses were all taught to people already in the field. The courses here at Millersville are a split between people with experience and people with no emergency management experience. The hardest part is making sure that everyone is equally challenged and educated, since the students here have such a wide range in their backgrounds.

Q: How has the field of emergency management changed since 9/11/01?

A: I believe that before September 11, 2001, emergency management and emergency managers were not as much in the public’s focus. The field of emergency management really took the lead for disaster preparedness after 9/11. Even though there have been several changes to the way emergency management is applied, the money, resources and standards have risen to keep up with the changes. The field is much more professional now and focused on addressing all hazards, both natural and manmade. Emergency managers have gone from “other duties as assigned” to the leaders for disaster preparedness and coordination efforts. We are much better prepared today then we were 11 years ago, but more importantly, I believe we continue to be better prepared each day as we continue to learn better ways to prepare for all disasters.

Q: What is your favorite course to teach? Which is the most challenging?

A: Principles and Practices of Emergency Management (EMGT 601) is my favorite course to teach because I am laying the foundation for the program. It is the first course most students take in our program. Terrorism, WMD & Homeland Security (EMGT 616) is the most challenging. It is a very emotional course due to a wide range of views of the students and the fact that even though September 11, 2001, was 11 years ago, this course brings back a lot of emotions and bad memories for me and the students from that day in American history.

Q: What sets Millersville’s Master of Science in Emergency Management program apart from other programs?

A: We have a very diverse faculty that brings many great qualities to the educational process. Also, we have an advisory board that has some of the top global leaders in the field of emergency management, which helps us to constantly improve our program, staying on the leading edge with education and technology. And, last but certainly not least, we have students from all over the world that bring diverse views and experiences to class each and every night to improve the learning process and help make us better faculty members, while improving the program every semester.

Q: Where did you attend college? What degrees did you earn?

A: I have an associate’s degree in fire science technology from Harrisburg Area Community College, a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and hygiene management from Millersville University and a juris doctorate from Widener University School of Law.

Q: In your opinion, having served as a public information officer (PIO), what’s the biggest misconception the public has towards PIO’s and/or the media during an emergency?

A: I believe the biggest misconception is that the public generally thinks that media and the PIOs are trying to mislead them. I do not believe anyone who is a reputable PIO or member of the media would ever intentionally mislead the public. It is a very challenging and difficult job to report the news, trying to get all the facts, be timely and conveying this information to those who need it, when they need it.

Q: As an emergency responder, what was the most difficult incident you had to respond to?

A: All of the fatal incidents are very difficult. The first fire I ever responded to when I was 16 was a fatal fire involving a mother and her three children, and this helped guide my life’s purpose. However, from an emotional attachment, the Amish Nickel Mines school shooting on October 2, 2006, is the one that I always have in my mind because it was a heinous, senseless and intentional act against harmless children.

Q: What toll does being an emergency responder take on you emotionally? How do you cope?

A: Some days it is very difficult to go to work. You must have areas of interest and family that help you cope with this line of work. If you notice, my first listed activity is my son’s soccer booster club. You need to have priorities and the ability to just ‘turn off’ what it is that you do for a living some days to make it bearable. Also, having friends in the “business” that know what you are going through and that you can talk to helps tremendously. The hardest part, as I mentioned, are the fatal fires; however, there is nothing worse than the loss of a child. What makes it hard on the emergency responders is that most of us have children, so we struggle with the concept of a lost child, and we question what we could have done to prevent it.

Q: What is one rule you wish the public would follow before, during or after an emergency?

A: Before: Always take preparedness seriously. During: First Responders are people too, sometimes the public has expectations we just can’t meet. After: Thank the people that give their lives day in and day out to keep you safe.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: Anything with my son and his friends. He plays soccer so we travel around the East Coast to soccer games. I love hanging out with him and his friends. I also love to travel.

Q: Do you have any secret skills or talents?

A: I used to be a pretty good photographer, but I don’t seem to have time to practice my skills. I also love to cook, but I very rarely have time to get into the kitchen.

Q: What’s your favorite food to eat?

A: I love seafood. The Fireside Inn in Strasburg has a black and blue prime rib with crab sauce that I would eat every day.

Q: What’s the greatest life lesson you’ve learned?

A: Nothing in life is more important than family and a good education. I was taught this by an old fire chief when I was hired as a firefighter 30 years ago. He said, “They can take a lot of things away from you, but no one can ever take away your education, and no one sticks by you like family.”

Q: Do you have a favorite holiday or season? If so, which is it and why?

A: I love Christmas. I am really big on giving gifts because I love to see the reaction of the receivers. When I was young we did not have much, so giving gifts to others is pretty important to me.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Great interview! Thanks for all of your sacrifice and contributions to our community, Duane.

  2. I agree with Sally! This is my favorite section of the Exchange, and this is a truly great interview!! Thanks!

  3. I enjoyed reading about Duane Hagelgans! His greatest lessons learned (about education and family) are good to remember, and I will remember them! I applaud the concepts of emergency services and neighbor helping neighbor (his responses). Thanks for an uplifting interview.

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