APUS Alumni Stories: Everyday Hero Jim Langborg Provides Safety and Security to His Community
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By Melanie Conner, APUS Alumni Relations Outreach Liaison and Jim Langborg, AMU Graduate
Firefighters protect the safety and the security of our communities. They’re everyday heroes who make the world a better place. One such hero is AMU graduate Jim Langborg (Class of 2013), who has made his community a better place to live.
Jim, a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran, is the fire chief of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue in Florence, Oregon. He is also the executive director of the Western Lane Ambulance District.
Along with his team, Jim provides fire, rescue and advanced life support ambulance service to approximately 22,000 people. A current project that he and his team are working on is merging the two districts.
Jim earned a master’s in public administration from AMU. He later continued his education by completing the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
In honor of Veterans Day, I’d like to ask you: Why did you enlist?
I joined the USAF because I knew at 18 years old that I didn’t have the maturity to complete college, but I did know that the military would teach me those skills and make me grow up. I also wanted the honor of serving my country.
Why did you choose the Air Force?
I chose the USAF because they had programs that best aligned with my future goals of becoming a firefighter and paramedic. There were no openings in the Crash/Rescue program, but I was able to train as a medical service specialist and work in an ICU and Emergency Room. The experience and training I received was incredible and is directly responsible for where I am today.
Do you recall your first days in service?
Yes, I remember arriving at the San Antonio airport and taking the bus to Lackland AFB with a bunch of kids from all over the United States. I remember the first time I saw my drill sergeant, Staff Sergeant Brown, as he came through the door with his Smokey Bear hat, yelling at everyone.
I loved it! We spent an hour standing at attention for the first time and being asked why we wanted to be heroes. I listened to one of the most colorful and humorous tapestry of insults, profanity and team building I have ever heard.
Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
The military did not influence my thinking about war. I was raised as an American citizen by a father who had served and it has been very clear all my life that if your country needs you, you defend it. No questions asked.
Many people have done the same before, many are doing it now and many will do it in the future. This is one of the reasons why the USA is the greatest country in the world. I was also taught and do believe that is a duty and an honor to serve in the military.
How did your service and experiences affect your civilian life?
Everything in my life is the direct result of my time in the USAF. It has affected every aspect of my professional and personal life. It cannot be summed up in words.
The reason I did not make a career in the military was I wanted to serve my country and community as a paramedic and firefighter. This, too, has been a tremendous honor and privilege.
I am very grateful for everything I have been blessed with throughout my life. Most importantly, I am grateful that I have been able to serve in the military and as a first responder. It’s not always nice or fun, but it’s always been an honor and privilege to be trusted by the citizens we serve with their safety and lives.
Why are you are trying to merge Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and the Western Lane Ambulance District into a single district? What would you say is the biggest benefit of this move?
Great question. Last year, our two organizations entered into what is known in Oregon as an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) to combine administrative services. In short, we combined administrative staffs and we provide HR, financial management, and general administrative services to both organizations.
My position provides executive oversight to both districts. The premise for this agreement was to save taxpayer money by eliminating redundancy (similar positions that do the same thing) and find ways to improve service levels by creating efficiencies. In time, we hope to make this a full administrative and operational merger, but we are taking it one step at a time.
What inspired you to pursue a career in fire and rescue?
As cheesy as this sounds, my inspiration was the TV show “Emergency” that aired in the 1970s and focused on two LA County firefighter paramedics. As a child, I watched that show religiously every Saturday night and knew that this was what I wanted to do. The character Johnny Gage was my hero.
How did you prepare to enter this field?
I was fortunate enough to join the USAF, where I served as a medic in the Emergency Room of the hospital to which I was assigned. The Emergency Room also provided ambulance service to the base and I was able to obtain my National Registry EMT-Ambulance and Intermediate certifications.
I was also given the chance to take other advanced training that prepared me very well for Paramedic School. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a job in EMS and the Fire Service, where I have remained for nearly 27 years.
How has the knowledge you acquired for your master’s degree helped you in the field?
My master’s degree is in public administration with a concentration in human resources. This program has helped in several ways.
I learned a lot about the administrative process, which is what I do. My classes in organizational culture taught me a lot about change management, which has guided me through the IGA process we are currently implementing.
The HR classes were extremely helpful in teaching me about federal laws and mandates. Most importantly, I learned how to research important information.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
The two toughest challenges are financial issues and working with people, which I’m sure is true for every fire chief. Today’s public expects publicly funded organizations to do more with less and they are not sympathetic when you can’t.
From a personnel management perspective, navigating through organizational change and growth is very challenging. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely essential to ensuring that an organization moves in the direction it needs to go. A lot of what I learned during the MPA program is applicable in everything that I do on a daily basis.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Educationally, it would be earning my MPA and graduating from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. Professionally, it would be having the honor and privilege of being involved in the projects our two organizations are working on.
The Board of Directors for each agency and I share a belief in finding ways to partner with other organizations that ultimately will result in better service to our community. An example of this would be our current partnership with Peace Health, a nonprofit hospital organization that is working with us to implement a community paramedic program. It will be the first community paramedic program in our county and in the region. We are very excited about this partnership.
Personally, I wouldn’t necessarily call these accomplishments per se, but they are things that I am very proud of. First, I’m very proud of my family who has stood by me through thick and thin and allowed me to peruse my goals.
Second, I feel that I am very fortunate to be a citizen of the greatest country in the world. Even though there is a lot of political division among our citizens, you can quickly call a three-digit number and a group of highly trained and motivated professionals will show up to help you with your law enforcement, medical, fire or rescue emergency. They don’t ask questions and have no other objective other than to help you. In my opinion, that’s a great country when something like that can happen.
What advice do you have for people seeking a career in fire and rescue?
- Get your education. The Fire Service is no longer a blue-collar job. It is a highly technical, specialized and customer-oriented profession. Firefighters of today and tomorrow need higher education to keep up and your organization and citizens will expect it of you.
- Instead of resisting change, find ways to become part of the change. Change is part of life and it happens in everything we do. You’re better off getting involved in the implementation of the change, so that you can ensure it moves in the direction you feel it should.
- Never stop learning. If you ever get to the point that you think you’ve learned everything there is to learn, it’s time to retire because you’re not safe.
What do you do in your free time?
What free time? When I do have free time, I like to spend it with my family, enjoying the outdoors and traveling.
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