2023 Dr. Jeff J Clawson Leadership Award

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


So many people were stopping to congratulate Tom Somers at the NAVIGATOR closing breakfast, it’s a wonder he got out of the spacious dining hall before lunch.

Somers is the recipient of the 2023 Dr. Jeff J. Clawson Leadership Award. He is a well-known figure in emergency communications and firefighting, and with the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED). Despite “retiring” 10 years ago, he’s still going strong, relishing talking among peers and continuing to do what he values – advocating for emergency services. He can hold an audience in a classroom, on stage, and with small to large gatherings wherever he goes.

Somers said he was honored and humbled by the prestigious award and the opportunity to look out from stage at all the leaders—and that included everyone—in the audience and their willingness to be part of change.

Somers was introduced to Protocol some 25 years ago during his tenure with the Los Angeles (California, USA) Fire Department. The Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) was not an instant hit when Dr. Clawson initially visited, but he was asked to pay a second call following an incident with an adverse outcome.  

“We first met on my sojourn to Los Angeles, and he [Somers] has been a part of the evolving process since,” Dr. Clawson said when introducing the award and the recipient during a recorded video. As Dr. Clawson said, the award’s all about people who have made a “tremendous impact on our profession, the Academy, and Priority Dispatch®.”

Gary Galasso, IAED Fire Standards Council chair, and Mike Thompson, IAED Fire Curriculum Council chair, presented the award on stage at NAVIGATOR.

Somers eventually served for 33 years in Los Angeles, reaching the rank of captain in the Fire Department Communication Command and Control Center. He worked in field settings and was a telecommunicator and supervisor for 19 years.

Somers is a contributor to the evolution of the Fire Priority Dispatch System(FPDS®), released in 2000. “Tom’s fingerprints are on many of the improvements,” Dr. Clawson said. “He also contributed to some of the most interesting [Fire] Protocols,” including building structure fires and fire entrapment.

The Medical Protocols meshed with Somers’ public service sensibilities. Next came the Fire Protocols. He liked them. They were consistent and provided a standard of care that was lacking. Other attributes surfaced as he became more familiar with the process.

“You have a caller screaming at you,” Somers said. “They’re having a rough time, the worst day of their life, and the dispatcher’s instructions may be the caller’s only hope until first responders arrive. That doesn’t happen without Protocol. It helps the dispatcher focus.”

There’s also a sense of closure, he said. The Emergency Dispatcher seldom learns an outcome; the closure in Protocol is about “knowing you did the best you could do.”

Somers retired from the LAFD in 2013 and, within a few weeks, his schedule was filled but not by retirement activities, per se. He continues to “Reach New Heights,” as was the theme for this year’s NAVIGATOR. He is a senior consultant at Fitch & Associates in communications and operations projects and an adjunct instructor at the All Hazards Enhanced Incident Management/Unified Command at the Texas A&M Texas Engineering Extension (TEEX) Service. He is a member of the IAED College of Fellows.

Leadership is Somers’ career benchmark. He was in the first Fitch & Associates Communication Center Manager (CCM) course held 20 years ago and was selected as the class spokesperson. CCM, like Protocol, set him on a career path. CCM, he said, gave him the ability to see the world of public safety outside his agency. And Protocol? “It’s bigger than me, and it will last a lot longer,” he said.

Somers donated the award’s $500 honorarium to RaisingHOPE, a Ventura, California (USA) based organization offering advocacy, awareness, funding, and support to children and families in the foster care system. The Priority Dispatch Charitable Trust provided matching funds for a total $1,000 donation.