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Applying the Teaching

Already juggling the roles of husband, father of two, fire service captain and graduate student, Joe Calo will soon be able to add another to the list: published researcher.

Calo, who's a student in the M.S in Management program at the Division of Public Safety Leadership and a 16-year veteran of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, is in the process of putting the final edits on a paper called "The Changing Role of Leadership" in the Fire Service – which has been tentatively accepted for publication in the Journal of Emergency Mental Health, scheduled to run in their April edition.

The paper was originally written for the Advanced Leadership Studies class that he took with Dr. Joan Desimone, who saw its potential for publication. Since then, Dr. Christina Harnett has helped shepherd Calo’s work along, even finding him a colleague that has led to his successful peer review.

The paper, which Calo is currently revising to fit the profile of the journal, covers the changes he feels need to be made in leading fire and other emergency response groups in the 21st century.

“We’ve got a saying – tongue in cheek, of course – that the fire service has ‘200 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress,” he says. “But forces greater than the individual- political pressure, accountability, etc. – are coming to bear on these services and that role of leadership is changing. There’s a far greater level of accountability and higher expectation of education and technical competency than the past.

“And, threats are increasing as technology advances. We have higher-voltage cars, building materials that work great, but can fail miserably under fire conditions. What we have to do is make the changes to adapt to these things, because they’re going to be there whether we want them or not.”

Calo has been with Howard County for the entirety of his career, which came about after he found it difficult to find a good job after a stint in the military because he had only completed one year of his undergraduate education prior to enlisting. Even with a top-secret clearance, most places wouldn’t even consider him as an applicant, which is what led him to consider work as a paramedic for the fire department. He received his associate’s degree in Emergency Medical Services and has worked for Howard County ever since, completing his bachelors in psychology before enrolling at Johns Hopkins last year.

Even with his education and experience with the emergency services, Calo says the process of working through this paper from conception to the cusp of publication has been a learning experience.

“[Writing] is not something that comes as second-nature to me,” he says. “It’s a fairly significant work process. I write, then I revise and revise and revise. I think by working at it through the year and getting better at this, it’s really opened some doors for me and opened my eyes to the world of publishing.”

To make things more difficult, Calo has been recovering from a bad fall in the spring that occurred when he was examining the balcony of a home he was considering purchasing and a railing gave way, leading to a 16-foot fall onto the concrete below. He spent three days in Baltimore’s shock trauma center and still had both arms in casts when he did final presentations in his spring classes a month later.

But despite all of those responsibilities and that setback, he is putting the finishing touches on his edits and hopes to submit soon, in order to make that April publishing date.

“For academics, this is a pretty big deal,” he says. “Anybody can write a book, but that’s not something that has to be peer reviewed. A paper like this has to be based on information you have or sources you can pull. It’s an incredibly cool thing in my mind, and I think it’s something that fire and police should do more of.”

Photo above courtesy of Joe Calo - taken by Nathan Kamfjord