Protecting a community while more than 400 miles from home

Jessica Hallman
May 01, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During the day, you can find Alexa Tiemann in a Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology classroom, where she is pursuing a degree in security and risk analysis (SRA). At night, she spends her time protecting and serving State College and the surrounding community, as a volunteer firefighter.

Alexa Tiemann award

Alexa Tiemann, second from left, receives the 2018 Ronald F. Ross Firefighter of the Year award from Alpha Fire Co., where she volunteers. Tiemann is a junior in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, where she is pursuing a degree in security and risk analysis.

IMAGE: Provided

Tiemann works with Alpha Fire Company, where she has completed rigorous training to become qualified to help save lives and property in an emergency — even though she’s a long way from her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Everyone should get involved in the community somehow,” she said. “Even though we’re only here for four years, this is our home, our community. State College and its residents give a lot to us; we should give back to them.”

Tiemann, a junior, said that she has always had a passion for helping others and bettering her community. But it wasn’t until she came to the College of IST and met assistant teaching professor Nick Giacobe that she considered becoming a firefighter. Giacobe serves as a volunteer for the Pleasant Gap Fire Co. and encouraged Tiemann to explore emergency response as a way to give to the community.

While Giacobe put her on the path to become a firefighter, Tiemann said that there are many aspects from the College of IST that carry over into her volunteer role — especially critical thinking, a skill that is emphasized in the SRA curriculum.

“Firefighting is not just physical; there’s a lot of thought behind it,” she said. “You need to be able to think on your feet and in the moment. And, that skill is transferred both ways. I’ve learned things in fire service related to critical thinking, and what to do if your game plan doesn’t work.”

According to Tiemann, Alpha Fire Company gets an average of 1,300 calls per year, from fire alarms to car accidents to brush fires. She said that while she’s witnessed some tragic things, seeing the impact that her crew has on people keeps her going.

“We are in the 'bad day' business, so we are meant to go to those things,” she said. “They’re not fun, but that’s why we’re here — to make it better. It’s nice to know that we can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Being a volunteer firefighter isn’t all about the bad moments, though. Tiemann, who lives at the station, said that she has a lot of fun on the job — especially times spent with fellow live-ins and student firefighters, with whom she’s built a special bond.

“We’re all there for each other, we’re one big family,” she said. “At the end of the day, we know we can go to anyone there and they’ll be there for us.”

Tiemann said that she is the only female student firefighter serving with Alpha Fire Company, and one of only a handful of the company’s female volunteers. While that gender gap doesn’t impact how she interacts with her colleagues or how she does her job, it does help to prepare her for her future career field, which is also male-dominated.

“You need to stand your ground as a female in a male-centered environment,” she said. “As long as you believe in yourself, and you know what you are doing and have a goal in mind and work every day toward that goal, you will accomplish it.”

For her dedication to the department, Tiemann was recently presented with the 2018 Ronald F. Ross Firefighter of the Year award at the company’s annual awards banquet.

“I was really excited and happy to learn I’d won the award,” she said. “I’m really appreciative to everyone there. They’re always there to help people. I wouldn’t be the person or firefighter I am today without Alpha.”

While Tiemann is still exploring where her career path will lead after she graduates from Penn State, she does know one thing: She will continue to serve her community.

“It’s like a bug,” she said. “Once you have it, you can’t get rid of it. No matter where I end up in life, I know I want to be a volunteer firefighter.”

“Knowing that we make a difference in the community and for the people we serve is the most rewarding thing,” she concluded.

Last Updated June 21, 2019