Smittle humbled by Lifetime Achievement Award

Suzette Lowe
Walter Smittle III

Walt Smittle is a man of faith, family, and humility.

Upon learning that he had won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Governor Jim Justice, Smittle said: “I was totally blown away.”

Never seeking accolades while serving as a public school teacher, West Virginia State Fire Marshal, or director of Jackson County’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), Smittle has simply wanted to do the job well.

“My dad always stressed that when you accept a responsibility, you fulfill it,” Smittle said. “When you borrow something, return it in better condition than you received it. It all comes down to respect.”

Education is important to Smittle. Teaching has been part of each of the positions he has held, including fire marshal. Contributing to national codes and standards, providing consultation services, and teaching courses throughout the years have been the focus of Smittle’s career.

For Smittle, the “joy is in the journey.”

That journey changed direction from time to time, eventually leading him to the part-time position he currently holds.

As OES Director, Smittle oversees emergency service plan for the county, coordinating with various departments and agencies. He develops exercises to prepare for disasters that may come and has actively been working with the COVID-19 response.

Through it all, Smittle says two things have been constant.

“My wife, Barbara, has always been my support,” he said. “I’ve had to travel and be on call most of my career and she’s always given me encouragement. So have my children. Most importantly, it’s my faith in God and my Lord and Savior that has given me strength.”

As for the Lifetime Achievement Award, Smittle said it’s an honor, but also humbling.

“My job as OES Director is to keep the county commission informed on all the possible issues that may arise,” he said. “I will continue to seek grants, serve Jackson County, and carry out my duties as long as I possibly can.”

Background information:

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.

Following 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 West Virginia State Fire Marshal.

Following 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 Sciences (NIBS).

Smittle 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 West Virginia 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.