After her father passed away when she was only 13, Tonya Hoover set her sights on finding a career that would involve serving others. “I knew I wanted to be in the business of helping people,” she said. “[My dad] had a strong commitment to community and to his service as a volunteer firefighter,” Hoover explained.
Hoover attended college at Oklahoma State University, where she received a bachelor’s in Technical Education Specializing in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology. She also has an MBA in Business with a focus in Human Resources.
Hoover is now working as the Superintendent of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Prior to her current position, she retired from the California fire service after serving nine years with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), serving as the California State Fire Marshal from November 2011 to July 2016. Her other career successes include serving as a UC Berkeley Deputy Fire Marshal and a fire inspector. She is the first female to hold the position of Superintendent.
What do you think has helped you the most with your success?
What is the definition of success? If the definition is that I have been fortunate to take a hobby that became a passion and transformed it into a rewarding career, then I guess I have been successful. That success has come because I have had incredible support from family, friends, and peers. Any time I could have gotten too impressed with myself, I had a family, my daughter, who brought me back to reality. I was Mom first, and most of the time, you don’t get a “re-do” if you mess up. Also, I think believing in my profession and believing that I can bring about good in communities and my career peer group. I believe in the mission.
What are three pieces of advice you could give to readers about juggling a busy career and life, following their dreams, and being in your career?
I’m not really sure I’ve figured it all out. I have made mistakes, got priorities mixed up, missed events and occasions, and fell asleep in the middle of movies. I found, though, that I could beat myself up because I’m not Wonder Woman or I can accept that I am not going to be able to do everything but that doesn’t mean I don’t try my best. Self-awareness is vital. I was fortunate to have a supportive family, and that included my mother who was always there when I needed, or chose, to be somewhere work-related. She made it easier to make those choices because I felt my family, my daughter, was well provided for if I couldn’t always be home. I was in the business of putting others, the community I served, first and hoped my family didn’t think they were not on my mind.
I was fortunate enough to follow my dreams. No one told me “no,” which is a leg up. We each have choices to move forward, and the challenge lies in how we do so. Just think of the things we learn and add to our skill set when we take multiple routes to get to our goals. While every person is different, there is no better way to get to your passions and dreams than to be engaged.
I love what I have had the opportunities to do and accomplish through engagement. I believe I have the best career, and I embrace empowering others to enter this career I call the fire and emergency responders. I want to see our fire and emergency services represent the communities we serve.
What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome to achieve your goals?
Challenges for me are things like not taking actions or words personally and leaving them in the moment. There are times that I could have taken a comment personally and made that comment the focus instead of using it to address an issue. Also, there are moments when you have to step up and out. I think allowing myself those moments to be really and not settle was a challenge early in my career. A last challenge is understanding process. I am a process person because I believe if I can understand the process, I can help the team accomplish goals. Some processes exist because it has always been done that way, while some processes are constantly changing, so it takes time to learn processes and work through them.
How do you give back to your community?
I still consider myself new to the area, having been in Frederick just over a year, so I am looking for a way to give back. I would love to give back through an organization that helps women enter or re-enter the workforce and help them build confidence to take on the world.
How do you reward yourself after a hard day, week, or month’s work?
I love to treat myself to a massage every couple months. Those always feel nice after multiple airplane trips. Finding a new pair of shows is always a treat.
What is one quote or saying that inspires you?
My favorite movie quote is from Star Trek: “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.” Another favorite quote that has been part of my world view is something a mentor said to me while we were with our crew at an incident. As we were collecting food to hand out to those working, he told me: “feed your crew first.” In other words, take care of those that take care of you. It is not about me — [it’s] about those around me.