LWG Interview with Fire Chief Mary Cameli, City of Mesa Arizona
By LWG Editor
Recently, we talked with Mary Cameli, Fire Chief for the City of Mesa, Arizona. Chief Cameli talked about being only one of a few handful of women fire chiefs, what motivated her to create the Aspire Academy Arizona, and how to increase the number of women in the fire service. Here is the interview:
What inspired you to join the fire service?
I actually moved out to Arizona to teach in an elementary school. I just received my Bachelor’s Degree in Education and wanted to move to Arizona to teach school. When I arrived in August, I learned that school had already started. I needed a job and started working for two attorneys as an administrative assistant. During those nine months my brother, Gil Damiani, who was already on the job, kept telling me about this career and how great it was. He is the one who introduced me to the career of firefighting. The more he told me about the job the more interested I became.
There are very few female fire chiefs across the country, how does it feel to be in such an elite group?
I feel very blessed to have this opportunity. I have had the chance to meet many of the female Fire Chiefs across the country and they are amazing women. Women before us have made sacrifices to help our cause and opened the door for us to reach where we are today. The goal is to continue carrying that torch to allow women in the future to have the same and even more opportunities.
How might we increase the number of women in the fire service and to apply for command and chief positions?
I think it is important that we continue to stay visible for these young women so they see that women have just as much ability to reach their goals. There should be no limit to what you can do if you work for it. Often times just letting these young women know this is an opttion opens doors they never thought of before. By inviting them in, talking in schools, having some of the female firefighters, as well as the chief officers, go out and talk to these groups of young women allows them to see how many women can do this job.
What motivated you to create Aspire Academy Arizona? Tell us a little about the program.
A very similar program, in partnership with the Girl Scouts, was happening in Tucson for the past 8 years called ‘Camp Fury.’ The program was started by Assistant Chief Laura Baker (Tucson Fire) and Chief Cheryl Horvath (Golder Ranch Fire District). They advised us of this program and about four years ago Assistant Chief Deanna Cantrell (Mesa PD), myself and a few others from Police and Fire went down for a day to see what the program was about. We were all sold on this program once we watched how the girls were responding and realized that we need to bring this program to the Valley. We had incredible support from our City Management and the Council to put this program together. We decided this 3 day academy, during spring break, would become regional so all the Valley Departments could participate and advertise it in their communities.
Our first year we were really concerned when four weeks before the Aspire Academy was to start we had about four girls signed up. We again reached out through the schools, and talked to everyone we could about this program. Within two weeks we had 25 girls signed up, which was the maximum we wanted for our first attempt at running the academy. Partnering with the Girl Scouts and many donors who helped pay for the program, in addition to having multiple agencies step up and help us run it, we were able to have an extremely successful event. The first day was focused on Fire related skills and the second day was focused on Police drills and skills. The third day we combined what we do by putting the girls through scenarios where they learn what happens in the life of a police officer and firefighter on a daily basis.
Once the academy is over the participants understand what is needed for each of these careers and have learned about some new career options. Even if they choose not to work in either of these fields, they get the exposure and understanding of what the job entails. The most important skills they learn during this camp are there are no limits of what they can achieve and they gain confidence to try things they have never tried before. Also they learn it’s important to work together, to help one another, and to be compassionate to others…which are skills that help each of us in our daily lives.
What advice do you have for women who want to be a fire chief someday?
You can do it!! Stay focused and make good choices each and every day, because the choices you make today can impact your future. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. You need to keep focused on your goal. Always concentrate on the positive things happening around you and never be afraid to make mistakes. We all make them, but the key is to learn from them and move on. Remind yourself about all the good things you are doing and can do.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Go after your dreams, be kind and build relationships along the way. We are cheering for you!
Chief Mary Cameli was among the first women firefighters hired by the City of Mesa over 30 years ago and was named the Chief of the Fire and Medical Department in 2016. Chief Cameli received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education and Physical Education from Southern Utah University, according to Mesa officials. She holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix.