A sampling of the best and brightest to go through Oklahoma State University's fire and safety programs tell about their time on campus and the rewards their education earned them.
Tonya Hoover, California State Fire Marshal
“I was a single parent with a three-year-old child. I didn’t even have a car. I had one set of good clothes. I thought ‘I’m dressed up today -- I’ll go by and introduce myself to Harold Mace.
I told him a little about myself and gave him a resume. A few days later he called and said ‘I don’t think you should graduate with just an associate degree.’ He hired me as a student employee in fire service training.”
Hoover later became the first woman to earn a four-year degree in the program.
John Norman, Dep. Asst. Chief, FDNY (ret.)
“I was a Phoenix firefighter before I went to OSU. I had been in the department about a year and applied for an educational leave of absence to attend. I lived in the fire station in Stillwater for one semester and then got married.
My son Nick was born in Stillwater. OSU has always been on the leading edge and always will be if they keep making an investment in the quality and the kids. Today, rather than firefighters, OSU concentrates on generating fire protection engineers.
“My whole plan in high school was I wanted to be a Marine officer. The Navy dentist said no. I had grown up in the fire house on Long Island. Two firefighters named Jack and John Baal convinced me to try OSU. It really set me up for the future. I went right to work as a fire protection engineer, designing sprinkler systems in high rises.” The World Trade Center was one of those buildings. Norman served as search and rescue manager after the Sept. 11 attack.
Rixio Medina, Board of Certified Safety Professionals
“I was the first person from Venezuela to to earn a degree in fire protection. I grew up in a very large oil town of about 270,000 people. I came to Stillwater which had 37,000 people, 30,000 of which were students. I had nothing to do but study. At OSU I got the total loss prevention concept -- fire protection, safety, industrial hygiene, even loss prevention theory. You received a global concept about risk management and fire protection.”
“At OSU you learned the science and art of fire from the experts. It was the school to attend if you were going into the fire service. Back in the early 1980s they were offering courses on industrial hygiene when it was unheard of anywhere else. When you’re a graduate from OSU you can go to work right away. If I had any advise for them today it would be that they need to be more visible outside the boundries of the U.S.
“OSU has contributed phenomenally to the development of fire protection and safety around the world for the last 50 years. It’s an unsung hero. You don’t hear too many people talk about it. If you look back at the 1930s there were no fire academies, certainly no national fire academy. So we had OSU. It was the first collegate program to train people to be fire officers and specialists in fire prevention. OSU was the first to offer it.”
Manny Aljazireh, Fire Protection Adviser Saudi Aramco
“I was raised around the fire department in Nashville, N.C. I was all set to go to Florida Southern University in the fall of 1947 to study journalism when I read about the school in Stillwater reopening after being closed during World War II. The staff had been reassigned to war duties with regard to fire protection.
R.J. Douglas, who was head of the program, spent the war as fire marshal at an aircraft plant in Wichita, KS. I wrote a letter to Stillwater about entering. I thought the letter was enough. When I got there they told me they were all filled up. But since I had come so far they took pity on me and made room. I never regretted it for a moment. It was great. I was a member of the Stillwater Fire Department
The students stayed at both fire stations. The student veterans even had their own fire department on the northwest side of the campus. They were living in apartments that were former barracks. We established a home inspection program and discovered one barracks that housed families and a complete cutting and welding shop.”
Jim Weigle, Sr. VP of Business Development, Pyrolance
“I graduated from OSU in 1986. My interest in fire fighting started as a junior firefighter in Philadelphia when I was 16. I didn’t really have an interest in doing anything else. I went to Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA, and got a two-year degree in fire technology.
During the last semester I had a sprinkler course. The instructor was a graduate of OSU who pulled me aside and said ‘What are you going to do when you get through here?’ When I said I didn’t know he said ‘I think you ought to go to OSU.” He talked to me and my parents about it.
Bear in mind, I was only the second person in my entire family who had gone to community college. Everyone in my family lived within 15 miles of my grandparents. The trip to Oklahoma was my first time on a plane. In Oklahoma City I switched to a Greyhound bus for the rest of the trip. The one-hour trip to Stillwater took about three hours and a bus change. But I’ll never forget walking into the campus fire station and it was like I was home. I’ve been here ever since.”
Alan Brunacini, Phoenix, AZ, Fire Chief (ret.)
“I came from New Jersey originally. I got interested in fire fighting because both my grandfathers were firefighters — one volunteer and the other career. During World War II I lived in a town with a volunteer department. There weren’t any young men available so they let us teenagers help.
I got to drag hose and a few things like that. I went to college in Pennsylvania to study to be a personnel manager, but I didn’t like it at all. One day I found an article in Fire Engineering about how you could get a degree in fire fighting in Oklahoma. I wrote to the school and found out that admission was considerably less than where I was. So I told my folks I was going to Oklahoma. I lived in the fire house and managed to get my four-year degree in December 1952.
Twenty years later I retired from the Stillwater Fire Department as an assistant chief. Since my second job was maintaining fire extinguishers on campus, I then became OSU’s first full time safety director. I put in 35 years before retiring in 1988 ”