In the time it takes to read this, your entire home could become engulfed in flames.
“When a fire occurs in your home, it’s too late for plan development,” said Mari-Kaye Monday, Y-12 Fire Department assistant chief of operations.
The contrast in approaches to fire safety when at home versus when out in public is striking. Common-sense awareness, like finding the nearest exit, is one of the first things discussed when boarding any passenger airplane. Walk into a hotel or other commercial building, and the fire-safety signage is prominent and, likely redundant. In school, our children drill orderly evacuation from a fire at an early age.
Yet, our home, the very place we feel the most safe, is often deceptive in its false sense of refuge.
“A wise old fireman, who just happened to be my father, told me once, ‘If you are not prepared, the fire gives the test before teaching the lesson,’” said Assistant Pantex Fire Chief Robert Napp.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires claimed the lives of 112 Texans and 57 Tennesseans in 2021. Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association said about 74% of that year’s 3,315 civilian fire deaths in the United States occurred in the victims’ homes. That’s often because today’s residential construction materials burn differently than the traditional building materials used in the past.
“Due to the increase in the use of synthetics in modern construction materials and furniture, fires burn hotter and faster and with more smoke production than in years past,” Monday said. “The risk of flashover and collapse are significantly increased in today’s fires, giving little time to react.”
With such a small escape window—as little as 2 minutes, some experts say—having an established, well-known, and practiced plan can be the difference between life and death. This year, the focus of Fire Prevention Week™, which will be recognized October 9-15, is to encourage Americans to create a home escape plan and to regularly practice it with the entire family.
“That plan needs to include a meeting place in front of the home,” Napp urged. “Speaking from experience, I would much rather pull up to a burning home and see the family all huddled together on the front sidewalk than to pull up and see only bicycles and tricycles in the front yard.”
The Pantex Ordnance Plant began production September 17, 1942, and it was one of more than 70 such facilities in the United States. This year marks Pantex’s 80th anniversary.
The year began with the fall of Manilla to Japanese imperial forces, German Gen. Erwin Rommel’s freshly reinforced troops running roughshod across Libya, and the first American forces deploying in Ireland to defend a weakened, war-weary Europe. At home, the need for ordnance to support the war effort was urgent. Bombs and artillery were falling faster than stockpiles could be replenished.
Against this backdrop, the Pantex Ordnance Plant began production September 17, 1942, one of more than 70 such facilities in the United States, and the last of 14 in Texas alone. The remainder of the war was a frenzy of production until, on August 16, 1945 — exactly one day after Japan’s unconditional surrender — the plant closed.
Katie Paul, Pantex historian, explained the Cold War that erupted out of the ashes of World War II persuaded regulators to reopen the plant in 1951 and brought rapid change across the thousands of acres that comprise the site.
“With the re-allocation of resources throughout the Cold War Nuclear Weapons Complex, Pantexans have interacted with people from all over the United States at various sites to. . .serve and protect our nation,” she said.
The burgeoning nuclear era of the 1950s and ’60s brought new facilities and a growing plant staff. Among all the new faces in 1965 was Linell Carter, then a fresh graduate of Palo Duro High School in nearby Amarillo.
“When I came, Pantex was like a big family,” Carter smiled.
Behind the family atmosphere, she explained, was a commitment to help each other out in good times and bad. Concerned about going to full-time work right out of high school, Carter found her new employer ready and willing to facilitate both career and education, paying for her to attend night school. That same familial bond extended to life’s inevitable hard times, too.
“When someone had a tragedy, we’d all jump in and help,” she said. “We did lots of things together on weekends. It was a fantastic job, particularly the unity and being a part of the community out here.”
Galen Boothe, another longtime Pantex employee, echoed Carter’s praise for their colleagues.
“The workforce here is above the average level,” he said.
Where Carter began her career in human resources, Boothe applied his experience with the Army to an assembler operator (now production technician) position. From his perspective, the secretive nature of the work was a driving force behind the strong sense of camaraderie.
“When I hired on in February 1970, the public — including me — had no idea what the mission for Pantex was or what we manufacture,” he said. “The ability to exchange ideas and opinions is welcomed here and contributes to the success of our site.”
Of course, no small part of the deep fellowship and actual mission accomplishment lies with the bargaining-unit employees. According to Tonya Detten of Labor Relations, eight decades of continuous product improvement has brought many changes to Pantex, which in her world means changes to labor contracts.
“Back when the ProForce was added, it would’ve been like a police force contract,” she said, adding that today’s unions are quick to keep up with the unique purpose of Pantex. “[Today’s contract] is very specific to what they guard . . . It has evolved. As the world changed, we had to change with it.”
And, change the world has.
“Pantex is constantly analyzing how things are done and striving to find methods to accomplish tasks in a more efficient and safer way,” Boothe said.
That pattern of accomplish-analyze-improve creates an environment of constant growth and improvement.
Paul speculated the rapid rate of change, largely owing to the technology necessary for the job, would be a marvel to the workers who first occupied the Pantex site during WWII.
“From a historical perspective, one of the most notable changes has been the embrace of technology,” she said. “For many years, we were working with systems that became antiquated so quickly due to the rapid rate of technological advancement in the work that Pantex completed. Technology related to our mission is still advancing at a fast rate, but we are much better at keeping up and improving systems in the present day.”
That is only logical; improving systems is at the core of the Pantex mission. Since 1975, the site has been the nation’s primary assembly/disassembly, refit, and modification facility for its nuclear weapons stockpile. And, like any community, Pantex is constantly growing and changing.
“During the ’80s, they ramped up things for sure,” Detten said. “We’re at hiring levels we haven’t seen in decades.”
That increased staffing contributes to more than increased capacity and efficiency. It gives a new generation of Pantexans the sense of accomplishment and patriotic pride that kept Carter here much of her adult life.
“I love Pantex. I love what we do, what we stand for. I love that we can contribute something and protect America.”
See photos of Pantex throughout the years in this Pantex 80th Anniversary video.
Being a good neighbor means looking out for one another. With its rural location, Pantex and the neighboring towns and communities often rely on each other, especially in times of trouble.
Pantex is a part of an ongoing agreement known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) documenting all parties’ cooperation on emergency matters of mutual concern.
Incidents such as traffic accidents, fires, and medical emergencies are the most common, but even unpredictable events like the train collision outside of Panhandle in June of 2016 are covered under the MOU. Pantex emergency responders were quickly requested that day, and our emergency services were used for two days following the accident.
The purpose of this MOU is to recognize the need for cooperation on emergency matters of mutual concern and to facilitate the development of joint training, plans, and procedures for coordinated responses when either entity requests emergency assistance from the other.
Since 2016, there has been an increase in mutual aid responses. There was a notable dip in 2020, but overall the numbers have been increasing.
“The mission statement of Pantex Fire Department is ’caring for people’ and while the protection of Pantex is our priority, our caring for people does not stop at the boundaries of the plant,” said Pantex Fire Chief Mike Brock. “With NPO's agreement, we are able to participate in MOUs and provide our assistance to neighboring communities. We are blessed to have a very gifted staff, and they enjoy being able to use and sharpen their skills helping others in their time of need.”
While the final numbers for 2022 will not be tallied for a few months, the preliminary numbers of emergency responses off site are ahead of the annual averages. In the first three months of fiscal year 2022, (October, November, and December 2021) there were 27 total mutual aid responses, 15 emergency medical services, 10 fires, and two motor vehicle accidents.
Pantex Chief Mike Brock and Assistant Chief Robert Napp both noted that the emergency assistance being offered is a two-way street, reinforcing the “mutual aid” both offered and received.
“No fire department in the world is so big that it never needs assistance at some point. From FDNY on 9/11 to the Panhandle Fire Department in 2016 with the train wreck, we all need help at times,” added Napp. “The Pantex Fire Department responds to many calls for help from our neighbors. Recently, our mutual relationship with neighboring departments was evident when the PXFD asked for assistance with a wildland fire on our property. Several departments in the area responded and assisted us in controlling the fire.”
Take 5 minutes and learn about Max Robertson, director of Information Technology Business Operations at Pantex and Y-12. All views and opinions are the employee’s and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
With digital systems and technology integral to how we operate, Information Solutions and Services enables a wide range of business-related and mission-essential services, processes, and products at Pantex and Y-12. To name a few, IS&S supports more than 13,000 devices, 4,000 VPN connections, and 2,000 servers that reside on our network. In honor of this year’s seventh annual IT Professionals’ Day, we recognize and thank the leaders and experts in the field of Information Technology and Cybersecurity that not only keep us connected and protected, but are part of building the future landscape of technology for our mission.
As the demand for new technology increases to support growth and modernization at the sites, Max Robertson, director of IT Business Operations, plays a major role in its development. From facilitating current projects that require IS&S support to approving procurements of new hardware and software, Robertson’s team is tasked with ensuring every form of technology on a project (e.g., computers, software, components) follows the required quality, security, and implementation steps before it meets the network.
“We are looking to the future in IS&S, but we also support the current projects across the business that are underway and require a digital footprint,” Robertson said. “While funding and scope are key, the people of IS&S are truly the essential element behind the success and completion of a project.”
What daily task lets you know you’re helping achieve the CNS mission? How/why does that task let you know you’re working toward the mission?
There are a few daily tasks that factor into how I know we’re helping achieve the mission. First and foremost, it’s knowing that we’re keeping our systems and network operational. Secondly, it’s knowing how our projects are making positive progress, and lastly, it’s knowing if the demands are being scoped clearly. This helps my team and me see that we are supporting the foundation of the business today (i.e., systems, purchases, and contracts) and preparing to support technology in the future.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.
I am doing so much more than I envisioned for myself. I had a limited vision at the beginning of my career. My background is in nuclear engineering, so my focus was working in a nuclear power plant for 30 to 40 years and then retiring. I never dreamed I would be able to accomplish all that I have in the past 35 years, including starting up first-of-kind nuclear facilities, protecting nuclear power plants from cyber threats, and modernizing nuclear fuel fabrication facilities.
What CNS principle drives you to be successful?
Own the Outcome (good or bad) and Set High Standards. With these two principles, we are held accountable for our work and we make our environment better than we found it.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y‑12?
Our sites have a rich history, so change isn’t easy. However, change is needed to ensure we are relevant and focused on areas required for improvement. Be patient and diligent in your efforts. Ensure that you are working daily on the items that are important to the mission, DOE, and NNSA since we represent them. Remember that what we do here is vital to global security, and you play a key role in protecting our country, our values, and our nation’s allies.
What one thing would your coworkers be surprised to know about you?
Those who don’t know me well might be surprised to know that I am a strong Christian. I also have a passion for digital technology and nuclear technology. While both are core to my interests, I feel the most satisfied when I am solving problems or fixing issues (must be my engineering background).
Take five minutes to learn about emergency preparedness specialists Reeves Easley-McPherson and Gregory Roddahl. “I Am Mission Success” profiles share how each employee feels tied to the Pantex and/or Y 12 mission. All views and opinions are the employees’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
Sound leadership comprises several key factors: respect for others, a spirit of innovation, and a commitment to excellence.
That is exactly the approach Reeves Easley-McPherson and Greg Roddahl took to a recent assignment, with impressive results.
“Each employee brings their own unique set of skills,” Easley-McPherson said. “So, don’t be afraid to speak up. You might know of a new way to complete a task that is safer, saves time, or saves money.”
Not only that, Roddahl said; standing in the gap to make sure operations run smoothly has its own intangible rewards.
“There’s always something not working correctly,” he said. “Finding it and fixing it before it’s needed lets me know I’m supporting the mission.”
No small part of that mission is following directives. To that end, Easley-McPherson and Roddahl considered the intent of the Department of Energy order that requires an alternate emergency operations center.
“[The order] does so as a part of a life safety and continuity-of-operations goal,” Easley-McPherson explained.
Using that order as a foundation, the men and their teams incorporated the Joint Information Center, two classrooms, and a remote workspace into the new facility in downtown Amarillo.
“I think of it as a Swiss Army knife or multifunction facility that exceeds the requirements of the DOE order,” Easley-McPherson said.
Their innovation not only created a more useful space, but will also save taxpayers some $800,000 over the life of its 5-year lease. That’s something of particular importance to Roddahl.
“Take ownership and pride in what you do,” Roddahl said. “Then, you can take satisfaction in it.”
Better efficiency and reduced cost – truly mission success!
When did you start working for CNS? If you didn’t begin in your current role, briefly describe your career progression.
Easley-McPherson: “I started working for Pantex in May 2016 in the Emergency Management Department. Growing up in Amarillo, I was surrounded by Pantex employees who were leaders in my church, in Scouting, and as neighbors. Their character and work in the community was admired. I had former Pantexans such as Marvin Willis and Paul Wagner as mentors while growing up. I am proud to be able to follow in their footsteps.”
Roddahl: “I earned my degree in environmental engineering from Texas Tech University and was looking for somewhere I could use it. I began working at Pantex in 2001. I worked for Environmental Projects and the 35-Account Testing Lab before taking a position in Emergency Management in 2010.”
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? Describe how your career compares or contrasts to your expectations.
Easley-McPherson: “I started in Emergency Management in January of 2001. Since then, I have worked at the local, state, and now the federal level in this field. It is an environment of train and prepare, and then test. The drills and exercises we do test the training and preparation. If there is a miss in a drill or exercise, we step back, re-evaluate, and begin the process again. It is an exciting and dynamic career.”
Roddahl: “I obtained my degree to work as an engineer, and I’ve managed to use the skills I learned to be successful in all the roles I’ve had at Pantex. I thought I would be designing drinking-water treatment plants, and I was able to use the chemistry classes and labs to help being successful in the wet-chemistry lab. Now I’ve learned a great deal about how DOE wants their emergency management programs to be run and interacted with other sites and state programs to be successful here.”
What is your favorite aspect of your work environment?
Easley-McPherson: “At Pantex, my work and what I am able to contribute are appreciated and respected. I hear ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ from my management team often. This is a trait that most managers outside of Pantex miss¬¬—you get more from your employees with respect and a sincere ‘thanks.’”
Roddahl: “I enjoy the open-endedness of the work and the variety of tasks to accomplish. While I prefer a stable routine, I also wouldn’t like doing the same task every day forever.”
What advice or encouragement would you give to a new employee or someone considering applying for a career here?
Easley-McPherson: “Pantex is an exciting and unique place to work. In addition to our mission work, we have everything a small municipality would have, such as fire and EMS, police, waste management, transportation, food service, and utilities. Also, no two days are the same — the work is challenging and rewarding.”
Roddahl: “Pantex is a great place to work as a career, or you can move to a new job as your life situation changes.”
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
Easley-McPherson: “I was always willing to help.”
Roddahl: “I’d like to be remembered for the same things I value in others: integrity, trust, and respect.”