Women's History Month: Women in USFA

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True Originals

In 2009, the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, MD celebrated its 30th anniversary. Including the USFA staff members who transferred from Washington D.C., there are still more than 20 of the original �legacy employees� working at NETC.

Myrna Mood

Among these legacy employees, Myrna Mood is the matriarch. She is the woman with the longest continuous association with the USFA. In 1976, Ms. Mood took a job with the newly created National Fire Prevention and Control Administration (NFPCA), an agency of the Department of Commerce located in Washington, D.C. NFPCA was the precursor of the United States Fire Administration (USFA). In those early days, Ms. Mood was part of the agency’s push to educate the fire service on the existence of this new organization created to be their Federal partner. She worked with the site selection committee tasked to find a home for the National Fire Academy (NFA) and was one of the first to arrive permanently at the NETC campus in 1979. She takes great pride in the work she has done with NFA 2-day deliveries and values the many long term friendships she established through the network of state fire training coordinators as a result of her years as State Weekend Program coordinator. She is a Field Training Program Specialist with the Education, Training and Partnerships Section of the NFA and upon retirement she�d like to be remembered for having provided �exceptional customer service� to the first responder community that she holds in high regard.

Pam Kemenyas

Pam Kemenyas originally planned for a career as a dental hygienist. Fresh out of high school, she took a good paying summer job that somehow extended into more than 30 years of Federal service. She admits she would never have thought back in 1976 that �I�d still be working for the Federal government in 2010.� Her father, a local volunteer firefighter, alerted her to job possibilities in Emmitsburg as word was out that the National Fire Academy was moving in virtually next door to home. Since her arrival on campus in 1979, a series of supportive mentors, advancement opportunities, and challenging work have kept her here. Although her original plan was to return to school, Ms. Kemenyas has no regrets about staying at NETC where she now serves as the USFA’s Management Operations Branch Chief. She is amazed to think that what started with only a handful of employees has evolved into a facility supported by more than 400 contractors and staff and each year is visited by thousands of emergency responders from all over the country.

Sue Downin

Growing up in a town less than 45 minutes away, Sue Downin might have been considered a local by some standards. But until she came to work in Emmitsburg in 1980, she had never even heard of the place. Ms. Downin had 12 years of bookkeeping and accounting experience when a generic application for Federal employment landed her an opportunity with the USFA. Like most others in those early years, she did a variety of jobs and she even worked with the Emergency Management Institute for a period of time. A career changing opportunity came when she was asked to assist with the USFA broadcast network. The network manager believed her attention to detail would be an asset, and it was. What she never envisioned when she started here is that she�d have the opportunity to move up in the organization in a career field for which she had little formal background or training. The on-the-job experience took Ms. Downin from Admissions Clerk to her current position as a Television Producer with the National Preparedness Network (PREPnet) managed by the USFA’s Management, Operations and Support Services Division.

Julie Davis

Emmitsburg native Julie Davis graduated from local Mount St. Mary’s College with a major in social work. Realizing that her chosen field was going to require graduate study and because she was not quite ready to go back to school, she decided to apply for a job with the newly established National Fire Academy. Currently a Training Specialist with the NFA’s Training, Administration, Planning and Analysis Section, Ms. Davis has worked in just about every facet of the NFA including curriculum development, resident and field program delivery, and now NFA’s online training and accreditation. She understands that some might be surprised at how many legacy employees are still working at NETC after 30 or more years. Her explanation is that �it is a nice place to work, close to home, and family friendly.� She is proud that her hometown is now recognized across the nation because of the thousands of students who have visited the NETC. Ms. Davis had no connection with the fire service when she started here in 1980 but today she and her family are actively involved with Emmitsburg’s Vigilant Hose Company.

Becky Ryan

Becky Ryan has the distinction of being the sole remaining USFA staff member who was also a student at St. Joseph’s College, the former occupant of what is now the NETC. As a local resident, she was aware of the anxiety among some citizens of Emmitsburg when it was first learned that a Federal agency was moving into their small town. Ultimately, USFA and the thousands of firefighters who come to Emmitsburg every year proved to be good neighbors. She returned to the campus in 1980, no longer a student but now a career woman. She admits she couldn’t have imagined at that time how important and central to the Nation’s fire service the USFA would become. Ms. Ryan appreciatively notes how the historic campus has been treated with respect and is beautifully maintained. The intervening years allowed her to take part in creating and delivering totally original programs and services � such as the professional networks for training directors (TRADE) and fire marshals (PARADE) � that provide a forum for sharing that hadn’t existed elsewhere. Ms. Ryan is a currently a Fire Program Specialist with the Prevention and Information Branch.

Their reasons for coming to NETC may vary but these women have similar reasons for staying: convenience of location, career potential, a worthy mission, and friendships. The legacy employees, men and women, have witnessed the many challenges and achievements that USFA has experienced since its founding. More than most, they can appreciate the full scope of what has been accomplished over the decades. They also rightfully deserve a significant portion of the credit for the success that is today’s United States Fire Administration.