President Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to how much good you can do, if you don’t care who gets the credit.” It’s a mantra that the Public Safety Executive Partnership in Buckeye, Ariz., takes very seriously, and it’s one of the reasons as to why it’s been so successful.
“It isn’t about glory or credit; it’s about the public we serve,” said Scott Lowe, public works director for the city of Buckeye and founding member of the PSEP.
A unique partnership
The PSEP is a collaboration between Buckeye’s police and fire departments as well as the public works department and is designed to provide an integrated, comprehensive response to public safety and service needs of the community. The concept of a partnership between the police and fire departments began in 2005 and was expanded to include the public works department when Lowe was hired on as the director in November of that year.
Lowe said the PSEP was a natural fit for all three entities and has become part of the official organization of the city. It is referred to in the city code, part of the emergency operations plan and was presented at PWX 2019.
“This was the second time we made this presentation to the APWA,” Lowe said. “The first time was in New Orleans in 2008, but we thought it was time to bring it back … especially when the APWA has been making a more concentrated effort to promote the idea that public works are indeed first responders.”
In addition to explaining the concept of the PSEP at the expo, the updated presentation offered attendees examples of how the three departments work together toward a common goal. Construction projects require extensive traffic control, detours, flagging operations, etc. Although the police and fire departments are trained in traffic control, public works employees are certified flaggers and traffic control technicians, thus they have the necessary tools, such as barricades, electronic signs and more, that can be put into place in a matter of minutes.
“Our involvement in providing these services makes for a much more efficient and safe incident command area for the public safety operations that are occurring at a particular location on a street,” Lowe said. “Public works has professionals that are equipped and ready to respond.”
Larry Hall, chief of the Buckeye Police Department, said what makes the PSEP such a successful endeavor is the fact that all three leaders have a desire to solve problems, share information and work together for the benefit of the people in the community. The team meets to discuss various scenarios and then practice those scenarios so that when the time comes, they operate as one to execute their emergency plan of action.
“By working together, we become more efficient and effective and provide better service to the people,” Hall said. “There’s … an understanding by the team of the ‘big picture.’ It’s not about one entity or department. It’s about coming together, sharing resources and completing the mission.”
Leave your ego at the door
Bob Costello, chief of the Buckeye Fire-Medical-Rescue Department, said the departments that comprise the PSEP have similar, but different missions within the community, and although they strive to support each other in those respective missions, challenges do arise.
“Perhaps the toughest is overcoming personalities,” he said. “We were very lucky when the partnership started, those involved were able to leave their egos at the door, work together and support
Costello said the relationship has remained strong enough that as new directors become involved in the departments, there is an expectation that the relationship will be maintained. With Buckeye listed as the fastest growing community in the U.S., there are extreme challenges, which make the PSEP relationship even more critical.
“It supports the idea that we all need to be there for mutual support,” he said.
It also means that the program is always subject to change and must evolve as the needs dictate. In the 14 years that the PSEP has been in existence, the concept has evolved. Lowe said they have implemented a formal emergency operations plan and Emergency Operations Center, and they will constantly work to hone the PSEP so it can maximize the departments’ abilities when they are called to action.
“I have always considered the role (that) public works plays in the operations of a city as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the community,” Lowe said. “Let’s face it; the ribbon cuttings and groundbreaking ceremonies for major projects that a city undertakes usually never include pavement preservation projects or stormwater pipe excavations, but they do happen for new fire or police stations. That is all good, but bringing public works into the public safety arena helps build professional camaraderie and respect among these vital departments.” Hall agreed, “(When) you work together and do not operate in a silo, you will accomplish more and have more job satisfaction at the end of the day when you collaborate.”