Published by Harrisburg Magazine, March 2, 2022
Editor’s note: Public safety professionals often hold informal discussions on the back bumper or tailboard of an ambulance or fire truck. Hence, the column’s tagline, “Tailboard Talk.”
Do you remember your favorite TV show or movie from the 1970s through 1990s? TV shows such as “Miami Vice,” “Adam-12,” “CHiPs” and “Emergency!” and movies like “Backdraft” and “Police Academy” portrayed professionals in law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services (EMS). Historically, the main characters on screen were predominantly men.
Despite these unbalanced depictions in entertainment, women play vital roles in the emergency services field. At the Senator John J. Shumaker Public Safety Center at HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, three women have been on the leading edge for a combined 77 years in public safety and emergency services.
The first in her family to enter emergency services, HACC Coordinator of Fire Training Tina Cook became a firefighter in 1997 and today is one of three female adjunct instructors for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. At HACC, Cook oversees the College’s involvement in Pennsylvania’s voluntary certification program and develops and manages training for business and industries throughout Pennsylvania. Cook previously worked as the fire and life safety manager for the 64-story U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh. She was the building’s main first responder for all medical and fire-related incidents, trained the building’s floor wardens on emergency procedures and managed emergency drills.
In 2015, she became a principal member of the newly created National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) committee of Fire and Life Safety Directors. Cook graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in communications with a specialty in training and development. Cook is the author of “The Firehouse Gang,” a children’s book about fire safety.
Since 1998, Beth Dombrowsky has held a leading role in law enforcement training at HACC and continues to serve as a member of the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) as a 2016 appointee of Governor Wolf. Currently, she is a coordinator of law enforcement training and serves as the certified school director for HACC’s Municipal Police Academy. In this role, Dombrowsky instructs and oversees the training of future municipal police officers.
Before coming to HACC, Dombrowsky served as a municipal police officer in the State College Borough Police Department. She earned her Act 120 certification through the Pennsylvania State Police and holds a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Active in EMS for 20 years, HACC alumna Melissa Etzweiler is the first woman in the nation to achieve the Commission on Accreditation for Prehospital Continuing Education (CAPCE) certification as a rescue medical practitioner. She began her first job in emergency care as a night shift registration clerk in a local emergency department, then became an administrative professional with an EMS agency in Dauphin County. Etzweiler became an emergency medical technician (EMT), which allowed her to serve her community in a different capacity. She was recruited to become regional education coordinator for South-central Pennsylvania’s eight-county region. Working with the Pennsylvania Bureau of EMS, Etzweiler had an integral role in the training and implementation of some current-day EMT and paramedic practices.
She achieved her Personal Trainer Certification to be the first to create the curriculum, instruct and facilitate a physical training portion in HACC’s EMS Academy. Etzweiler maintains her national and state certifications as a paramedic and continues to run on the ambulance in Dauphin County.
Dombrowsky and Etzweiler advise women interested in emergency services or currently in the field to focus on their strengths, recognizing that everyone brings unique qualities, characteristics and abilities to their profession. Cook said that women should not “let anyone tell you that you can’t” and you should always “stay the course.”
Dombrowsky further noted the need to adapt and have resilience as you overcome barriers and stereotypes associated with women in these professions. All three women agreed that mentoring women new to the field is essential to the sustainability of emergency services.
“It’s not about being ‘better,’ it’s about doing your best,” Etzweiler said. And that’s the focus of our region’s emergency responders. The next time you see these heroes responding in a crisis, take note of women, who are just as deserving of starring roles in our favorite films and TV shows. These women of excellence in public safety continue to save lives and make their mark on the communities they serve.
Photo Caption: HACC recognizes Senator John J. Shumaker Public Safety Center employees, from left, Melissa Etzweiler, Beth Dombrowsky and Tina Cook, who have who have been on the leading edge for a combined 77 years in public safety and emergency services.
HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, is the first and largest of Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges. HACC offers approximately 100 career and transfer associate degree, certificate and diploma programs to approximately 14,023 students. Also, the College serves students at its Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York campuses; through virtual learning; and via workforce development and continuing education training. For more information on how HACC is uniquely YOURS, visit hacc.edu. Also, follow us on Twitter (@HACC_info), follow us on Instagram (@HACC_edu), like us on Facebook (Facebook.com/HACC64) and use #HACCNews.