For Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the women of the Washington State Patrol (WSP). Get to know Assistant State Fire Marshal Melissa Gannie. She has dedicated years to the fire industry, community, and the Washington State Patrol.
What year did you start with the agency and how long have you been in your current position?
I joined the State Fire Marshal’s Office in 1997, and I have been serving in my current position as the Assistant State Fire Marshal of the Fire Prevention Division since July 2017.
What do you like to do during your time away from the job?
I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. Going on road trips and vacations to new places is always fun. I’m a life-long learner, so I enjoy taking classes and learning new things.
What drew you to working for the agency, specifically the Fire Protection Bureau (FPB)?
I applied with the Washington State Patrol over 26 years ago. All but four months of my employment with the agency have been with the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO). I was in my early 20s, so I am not sure I gave it too much thought about what it meant to work for the SFMO at that time. When I was 13 years old, my family’s home burned, and we lost nearly all of our possessions. It is unlikely smoke alarms were installed in the home at the time as this was the mid-1980s. Luckily no one was injured, and our house was adequately insured.
Over the course of my career with the SFMO, I have coordinated the National Fire Incident Reporting System, conducted inspections, worked in the fire service certification programs, and been involved in the all-risk mobilization program. The impact fire and other emergencies has on people, our communities, and the environment is not a topic I ever get tired of learning about or trying to prevent. I am committed to working with the fire service to increase the safety of responders and our communities.
What is your proudest moment while working for the FPB?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one moment. I enjoy helping people develop and grow beyond what they thought possible. Several people have had career advancements throughout my time in the FPB, which is always exciting.
I also enjoy working with people toward a common goal. These opportunities happen internal and external to the organization in fire service training, all-risk mobilization, fire and life safety, and other efforts on a regular basis.
The people who work at the SFMO are dedicated professionals striving to do the best they can within their capacity. Day in and day out I see them building a strong partnership to get things done for the betterment of the whole.
What challenges, if any, did you face before obtaining your current position and how did you overcome them?
I began my career in the SFMO in an entry level administrative position. I was eager for advancement not only in pay, but in meaningful work. I had taken a few fire service-related courses on building construction, codes, prevention, and investigation to start to learn about the industry. Since I had not held a fire service job, it was not until an in-training opportunity was established that I got started working in the fire marshal arena. I felt pretty lucky to be afforded the opportunity.
During my in-training period, I was assigned to a Deputy State Fire Marshal who had a wealth of knowledge to share with me. He used a mastery style of instruction, which was very beneficial in teaching me code and inspection methodology. Since the SFMO inspects state and federally licensed facilities housing some of our state’s most vulnerable people, I learned quickly the importance of the SFMO’s role in public safety.
Females working in this industry were a rarity when I first started out. Within our small workgroup today, there is now a good mix of genders and backgrounds. There have been barriers and challenges that presented themselves throughout my career, but I continue to stay focused on the work. I am committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and will do my best to help others succeed. Recently, I experienced a situation that motivated me to go back to school and gain more knowledge. Through knowledge and experience, doors can be opened, opportunities can present themselves, and then there will be a new set of challenges to face.
What do you want to accomplish while in your position?
While working in my position, I am committed to enhancing the programs and services administered within the Fire Prevention Division and the SFMO. Working in concert with our partners, we strive to provide the best in fire and life safety services. The people who work for the SFMO demonstrate their commitment time and time again, as do our fire service partners. At the end of my career, I hope to leave the organization in good hands for the next generation of leaders.
How do you celebrate equality in the workplace?
Understanding and promoting equity is an important element in making everyone know and feel they are welcomed and valued. Recognizing our differences and the various talents each individual brings to the workplace can create an environment of psychological safety where people thrive. I look for opportunities to assist others along their career journey, so they can utilize their knowledge and skills to the best of their abilities. I’m a people person, so I truly enjoy learning about others and helping where I can.