emergency leaders honored with DHS Freedom Awards
W.Va. – Gov. Jim Justice and his Department of Homeland Security
are honoring West Virginia county emergency managers for their commitment to
their challenging call to duty.
Homeland Security has inaugurated awards
for fiscal year 2020 to recognize emergency officials in six categories:
lifesaving, innovation, teamwork, perseverance, leadership, and lifetime
“These dedicated men and women help make sure
we run to the fire,” said Justice. “Whether it’s COVID-19 or flooding or any
other emergency, they know how to respond to save lives and they keep our
communities prepared in the meantime.”
The honorees will be presented with the
Freedom Pin, developed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy.
“Our intent is to honor those lives by
recognizing current first responders who go above and beyond to protect West
Virginia citizens from natural disasters and threats to our way of life from
both foreign and domestic evil powers,” Sandy said. “The men and women on the
front lines of emergency management spend countless hours preparing for natural
and manmade disasters.”
Homeland Security coordinates with West
Virginia’s 55 emergency management agencies through its Division of Emergency
Management, which is currently being overseen by DHS Deputy Secretary Thom
“Although I have watched these people from
a distance as part of my position at Homeland Security, it wasn’t until eight
months ago when I was appointed acting director that I was able to see the
day-to-day sacrifices and accomplishments of the people receiving these Freedom
Awards,” Kirk said. “I am forever grateful to them for the work that they do
for the state and for the West Virginians who benefit from their commitments.”
The 2020 honorees:
Roger Bryant, director of Logan County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Director Bryant has worked extensively through the years developing policy,
conducting training exercises and managing real world incidents. He has been a leader in preparing for mining
disasters, flooding, winter storms, and other emergencies which threaten the
loss of life. He is responsible for the
development and management of Logan County’s emergency medical, rescue and
disaster response system.
Lou Vargo, director of the Wheeling–Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency
Management Agency. Director Vargo has been a leader in using
state of the art technology to make emergency management the best to aid in the
effectiveness of responses to emergencies.
He has also served as deputy director and has more than 30 years of
emergency management experience in West Virginia and Ohio.
55 county managers. In the view of the W.Va. Emergency Management Council,
at no time in its history has its members been more unified and working
together as they have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(two recipients): Tom Hart, director of Marshall County’s Office of Emergency
Management; and Director Laura Pysz of Harrison County Office of Emergency
Management. Each has been
challenged with disasters, major road issues and many other obstacles in the
past few years. Both have stood strong and persevered through them all.
Director Hart currently serves as an executive
board member of the W. Va. Emergency Management Council, after terms as president
and vice president. Hart is also chairperson for the W. Va. Homeland Security
Region 2 Interoperability Committee and was tasked with developing the bylaws
for all six regional interoperability committees.
Director Pysz began her career at the City
of Bridgeport, working her way up to Director in 2014. In 2018 Laura transitioned from City
Government to County Government and became the Director of Emergency Management
for Harrison County.
Dean Meadows, director of Wyoming County 911 Center and Office of Emergency
Services. Director Meadows has led Wyoming OES/911 since its
inception in 1991. Meadows is also in his second term as president of the W. Va.
Emergency Management Council, which consists of all 55 county emergency
Walter Smittle III, director of Jackson County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Director Smittle was West Virginia State Fire Marshall for more than 25 years,
following his appointment in 1974. Among other distinctions, he served as
president of what is now the International Fire Marshals Association and the
National Association of State Fire Marshals. He was previously named Emergency
Manager of the Year by the W.Va. Emergency Management Council and a life member
of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
“To be acknowledged by
our peers and state leaders for our dedication and commitment is very rewarding,”
said WVEMC President Meadows. “It is an honor that Gov. Justice and Secretary Sandy
have recognized members of the emergency management community for these
Sandy created the
Freedom Pin upon taking office in 2017, to honor the men and women of what has become
the Department of Homeland Security who have made the ultimate sacrifice since
the state’s founding on June 20, 1863. To date, 136 members including State
Police troopers and correctional officers have perished protecting West
More about the 2020 recipients:
worked his first flood at age 13 as a Boy Scout volunteer. He washed dishes and attended to flood
evacuees at a shelter in the basement of the Masonic temple in Logan. He worked with the Red Cross and later became
chapter chairman. Bryant has 40 years of experience in emergency management,
both as a team member of various rescue teams providing direct field services
and managing small and large emergencies. He served as deputy director of the
Logan County OEM for 20 years and then became its director in the 1990s. He
served as chief of operations and incident commander for the Hurricane Katrina
Evacuees Relief Center at Camp Dawson, as well as the fatal Aracoma mine disaster
in Melville, Logan County.
Bryant was one of the founders of the W.Va.
Search and Rescue Network, Among the numerous local and national awards
recognizing his accomplishments: the National Association for Search and Rescue
(NASAR) State Award, the 2006 President's Volunteer Service Award, the W. Va.
State Medical Association’s Presidential Citation, the Weirton Heights Rescue
Award, the Samuel Channell State EMS Award, and EMS Administrator of the
Year. He is a principal member of the
NFPA 1670 Standard Committee for Technical Rescue.
started assisting the Jefferson County, Ohio, EMA in the 1980s as a
co-coordinator of Hazardous Materials Response. He joined Ohio County, W.Va.
Emergency Management as director on Sept 1, 1990. He then appointed John Tagg as director and
he served as deputy director due to administrative duties at Wheeling Hospital.
He returned as director in 2008. Vargo is the director of the Ohio County
Emergency Medical Service where he serves as a paramedic.
Vargo received a Master of Science degree
in community health management from West Virginia University’s School of
Medicine, and a Bachelor of Science degree in anesthesia from the former
Wheeling College. He has served as director of Nurse Anesthesia for both
Wheeling Hospital and the former Ohio Valley Medical Center.
Vargo is a certified hazardous materials
technician and incident commander. He is certified in Basic Disaster Life
Support and Operations Disaster Life Support through the American Medical
Association. He is an American Heart Association Advanced Cardiac Life Support
instructor. He has served as fire chief
for the Mt. Pleasant, Ohio Volunteer Fire Department. He was instrumental in
establishing the Wheeling Fire Department’s Advanced Life Support program,
serving as its first pre-hospital care advisor. He has been an EMS, fire and
rescue instructor since 1978 and teaches disaster management courses, EMS, and
hazardous materials response courses. He
has co-authored chapters of the Ohio Victim Rescue manual in Heavy Equipment
Rescue and Technical Rescue. Vargo is
also a member of the executive committee of the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime
Safety Committee in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a member of the W.Va. Health Care
Coalition Region 10/11. Lou is a proud
graduate of the first West Virginia course of the FEMA National Emergency
Management Basic Academy.
Tom Hart began his public
safety career as a volunteer with the Cameron Volunteer Fire Department,
Cameron Emergency Medical Services and as a dispatcher for the Cameron Police
Department. He then served as a
telecommunicator with the Marshall County 911 Communications Center for six
years prior to being appointed Emergency Management Director in July of 2000.
Given the rapid growth of the oil and gas
industry in northern West Virginia, and following three major gas well
incidents in his county, Hart developed the Marshall County Energy Exploration
Task Force. This brought together oil and gas operators, first responders,
local and state elected officials, community leaders and public entities.
Hart is a member of the W. Va. State
Interoperability Executive Committee; chairperson of the Marshall County Local
Emergency Planning Committee; and vice-chairperson of the Marshall County 911
Advisory Board. In 2010, Hart was named
West Virginia Emergency Manager of the Year. He is also a proud graduate of the
inaugural West Virginia class of the FEMA National Emergency Management Basic
Academy in the fall of 2019. A native of Cameron, West Virginia, Hart currently
serves as head boys basketball coach at Cameron High School.
Laura Pysz is
an accomplished emergency manager with a proven track record for achieving
goals in a fast-paced environment. In 2017, she was named the John Tagg
Memorial West Virginia Emergency Manager of the Year. In 2018, she was awarded the National Walter
J Bennett Public Service Award. She has
devoted her service to the community, with an emphasis on community engagement,
management, supervision, growth, and development. Pysz served as the vice president
of the Emergency Management Council for the past two years, and she prides
herself on helping others. Pysz is
readily available to help or give guidance to a colleague and she even spent a
month assisting Greenbrier County after the devastating 2016 flooding.
Meadows is a
1978 graduate of Pineville High School, a 1982 graduate of West Virginia
University and a graduate of the 60th Basic Class of the West Virginia State
Police Academy. He has served as a Wyoming County deputy sheriff and as manager
of the Wyoming County Airport. Meadows is a nationally certified floodplain manager
and is the floodplain manager for Wyoming County and the municipalities of
Mullens, Oceana and Pineville. He serves as chairman of the Wyoming
County LEPC and treasurer of the Wyoming County EDA.
has managed six presidentially declared disasters and has been the project manager
of eight federal Hazard Mitigation grants. He is a former president of the WV
E911 Council and currently serves as its vice-president. Meadows received the
2009 WV E911 Council President’s Award as the state’s top 911 director and was
chosen as the 2016 West Virginia Emergency Manager of the Year. Meadows was a
member of the W. Va. Statewide Addressing and Mapping Board until its sunset
and was most recently appointed to the W. Va. State Resiliency Board.
Walter Smittle III
was born in New Martinsville and received his elementary and secondary
education in Paden City. Continuing his
education at Marshall University on an athletic scholarship, he received a
Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965 with a double major in general/biological science
and physical education.
his graduation from Marshall, Smittle was a classroom teacher for nearly five
years, teaching general science and biology, as well as filling the position of
head basketball coach. In 1970, he
accepted an administrative position in the Wetzel County School system and
became director of Transportation and Safety. Concurrently with that employment,
he was a student in the graduate degree program of WVU. In 1973, he received
his Master of Science Degree in safety education. During this period,
1965-1973, he became involved with the fire service as a firefighter, officer
and instructor for firefighting. His
educational background in safety and active interest in fire science
established his eligibility as W. Va. State Fire Marshal.
his confirmation in January 1974, Smittle served as state fire marshal for
nearly 26 years. During his tenure, he was active in the NFPA and the Fire
Marshals Association of North America. He has served on the Life Safety Code
Committee of NFPA, Fire Safety Symbols Committee and Fire Prevention Code and
later served as chair on that committee.
He was appointed to the Standards Council of NFPA by the NFPA and
appointed to the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Building
completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and
received the prestigious 1995 Standards Medal Award from the Standards Council
of NFPA, He also received the
Firefighter of the Year Award from the National Volunteer Fire Council in 1997,
the Paul C. Lamb Award from the NFPA Board of Directors, and the Percy Bugbee
Award from the Fire Marshals Association of North America. As a result of his participation, he was
awarded a fellowship to Harvard University to attending John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1986.
In July 1994, he completed the Duke University Program for State Executives. He
served as executive director of the W.Va. Safety Council prior to committing
his services to the National Association of State Fire Marshals where he
provided consultation services on national codes and standards. He also
provided instruction on the Life Safety and Fire Prevention Code of NFPA.