Good Neighbor - May 2015
Pam San Fillippo
As one of the few female career fire chiefs in the country - and the first one in the state - Pam San Fillippo remains fired up about her job, the department, and its work of protecting Bay St. Louis
- by Pat Saik
Pam has had ties to Bay St. Louis ever since she was a child. Born in New Orleans, she and her parents often visited family who had a little place on Texas Flat Road and other family who lived in Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
Pam and her parents, the Jordans, moved permanently to Diamondhead in the early 1970s, when Pam was twelve years old.
Chief Pam literally has climbed many fire ladders in her advancement up the ranks from 1986, when she first joined the Bay St. Louis Fire Department as a firefighter.
Representatives of the Mississippi Fire Academy in Jackson where new recruits are trained, affirm to the best of their knowledge that believes that "Chief San Fillippo is the first and currently, the only, female chief of a career fire department in the state of Mississippi."
Whether she is or not, Pam makes no big deal about it. She is there to do her job and do it well. Not unlike the British “stiff upper lip” advice during World War II—“Keep Calm and Carry On”—Pam’s demeanor is calm, cool and collected, even in stressful situations.
In short, Pam is the kind of person that people look to in times of disaster to take charge and to do the right thing. The community of Bay St. Louis can rest assured that the Fire Department is in experienced hands.
Once, when Pam “was on the receiving end,” getting help from the fire department when her own mother fell ill, “I realized then how important the role of a firefighter really is. Their very presence helps bring a feeling of safety.”
Pam served eight years as a firefighter, from 1986 to 2002; she was shift captain from 1997 to 2002. Pam then moved into the role of assistant chief and later deputy chief from 2002 to 2010. She received her appointment as Fire Chief later in 2010.
The transition from “blue shirt” to “white shirt” upon leaving the ranks of the firefighters took some time. For her, “the most fun thing about her job was riding the fire truck.” As an administrator, moving up the ranks meant riding a desk chair rather than a fire truck.
As Pam describes it, “it was like walking into another dimension.”
Luckily for Pam, Tammy Garber, the office manager who had worked for five fire chiefs before Pam was appointed, “taught me what I needed to do to be a fire chief.”
According to Pam, Tammy’s institutional memory of what happened when is fantastic. “Rather than checking a file, Tammy usually knows the information off the top of her head.”
One of Pam’s goals is to let the public know what the fire department does. Sure, it answers fire alarms, but also are around for life-threatening trauma calls, vehicular accidents and chemical spills, just to name a few.
“You never know from one second to the next what you’ll be doing in the course of a shift.”
Before Pam’s job responsibilities as Chief demanded so much of her time, she and her golden retriever Allie were volunteer members of the Louisiana Search and Rescue K-9 Team from 2002 through 2007. Allie was a “cadaver dog,” trained to detect the presence of human remains.
They even worked together with the anthropology department at Ole Miss, searching American Indian mounds and civil war graves. “Dogs can detect recent human remains but pre-historic remains as well!”
“I have to say that the work Allie and I did with this team was probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done, and I do miss it.”
Allie, ”who loved to go to work,” passed away in 2012. Pam and her husband Dominic—a former firefighter himself—now live with two Golden Retrievers, Maggie and Ellie, very special members of the family.
Pam encourages the citizens of Bay St. Louis to keep up with what the Fire Department is doing. Email them at email@example.com or follow what’s happening on the Fire Department’s Facebook page. “It’s a way for word to get around quickly.”
Pam recalls when someone called the Department to ask when the Fire Department would be open.
She grinned. “We’re here 24/7. Just whenever you need us.”
Chief San Fillippo is now writing a monthly column for the Cleaver, Station House BSL,
covering fire safety issues and acquainting residents with the fire department and its crew.
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