LAFD’s Norma Jean Valdez Receives International Award

From left, CFAI Commission Chair Steve Dirksen presents LAFD’s Norma Jean Valdez with the prestigious CPSE Award at a special ceremony Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., as LAFD Chief Troy Hughes who nominated Valdez looks on. Courtesy photo

Los Alamos Daily Post

The recipient of the 2022 Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) Ray Picard Award is Senior Management Analyst Norma Jean Valdez of the Los Alamos County Fire Department, a CFAI Accredited Agency.

Valdez is the one person in the entire world selected this year to receive this prestigious award. Nominated by Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes, she is the first woman, Hispanic and New Mexican ever to receive this award. Valdez serves as a champion of the accreditation process, both in New Mexico and beyond, and exemplifies the spirit of Ray Picard in receiving this award.

“The first civilian to ever receive this award … it was my honor to nominate such a deserving individual,” Chief Hughes said. “Norma is good to her core and a true role model for how to live your life in service to others. I am ever grateful to call her my friend. Beyond deserving of this recognition.”

Valdez has been involved with accreditation since the beginning, when Los Alamos was selected as a beta site for the accreditation process. According to one of her colleagues, she has since been continually a part of the department’s accreditation, having “vision, dedication, heart, balance, determination, and the desire for continuous improvement to keep LAFD’s accreditation quest alive and striving, always being the one to carry that torch towards success.”

In 2000, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) established the Ray Picard Award. It was designed to recognize Chief Picard’s vision in pioneering quality improvement for the fire and emergency service. Chief Picard was one of the earliest champions of the self-assessment and accreditation process that has led to a culture and paradigm shift within the fire service.

This award is presented to an individual who exemplifies the ability, character, dedication, leadership, and visionary attributes Chief Picard exhibited. The individual personifies Chief Picard’s contributions and exceptional leadership to the CFAI and the accreditation of fire service organizations.

“I had a great mentor in the early days,” Valdez said. “Then LAFD Fire Chief Douglas MacDonald (Chief Mac) was one of the members of the initial accreditation think tank. He saw something in me and he saw that I loved the thought of making things better.

Chief Hughes has supported all the work Valdez and her colleagues have done, she said.

“He knows that I won’t settle for good enough. I wanted to try new things, new approaches and find new opportunities to be more efficient and provide a higher level of service to our customers,” she said. “He offered me opportunities to learn about the accreditation model by allowing me to jump right in and see what we discovered. I am fortunate that I was given the latitude to take my ideas of continuous improvement and run with them. I earned great respect from my leadership and colleagues in the fire service by taking a collaborative approach – admitting, with humility, that I was simply a worker bee committed to making a difference.”

Valdez said that she recognized early on that she doesn’t know all there is to know about everything, but she does know people who do.

“I am very resourceful,” she said. “In fact, one of my favorite quotes from Saint Mother Teresa is, “I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things.”

“I recognized that everyone has expertise in one thing or another – and I tapped into it. I solicited advice, assistance, guidance and education in all areas, and through that effort, I rallied participation and buy-in,” she said. “When appointed as the Accreditation Manager in 2009, I accepted with such excitement and passion. I knew that my passion and dedication would guide me. I am not afraid to work hard – to admit I don’t know something – to persevere in spite of challenges and to be sincerely grateful for others who journey with me.”

Valdez is handing the AM responsibility to Xavier Anderson. She will remain active in the accreditation process and continue to work with departments interested in the accreditation process.

Valdez added that in the 25 years since Los Alamos became accredited, she is proud to have been part of the department’s continuous improvement evolution, “and to have contributed to ideas and practices that give us the ability to claim performance excellence and yet acknowledge that there is always opportunity to get better.”

Valdez has participated in five accreditation cycles and served as AM in the 2010, 2015 and 2020 Los Alamos accreditation cycles. She also participated in eight site visits including, Columbus, GA; Mountain View, Colo., Grand Rapids, MI; Quantico, VA; Loveland, Colo.; Johnson City, TN; Santa Clara, CA and Fayetteville, NC.

She and Anderson directly assisted outside agencies with their accreditation process including Farmington, Bernalillo County and Albuquerque as well as DOE’s Y-12 and Pantex and Johnson County, Kan., and many others indirectly by sharing tools that Los Alamos has created.

Valdez also has served as chair of the New Mexico Fire Protection Grant Council for 12 years, a member of the New Mexico Fire Service Professional Standards Commission for 4 years, New Mexico Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of the fire service in New Mexico for 2 years.

“I started in the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office in 1981 as a statistician,” Valdez said. “I joined LAFD in 1992 as an administrative specialist and retired for a bit in 2007, then returned to LAFD in 2009 as a management analyst and accreditation manager.”

Her community service includes the Little League Board, Parish Finance Council member, Coordinator of Church Youth and Adult Ministries. She has been married for 35.5 years and has eight grandchildren.

Valdez served on the team that received two Quality New Mexico Piñon Awards; one in 1995 and again in 1996 for a commitment to utilizing systematic processes to attain improved overall outcomes. Quality New Mexico is a multi-tiered assessment and awards process assisting New Mexico organizations along their path to achieving and sustaining performance excellence.

She and her peers received the Department of Energy Medal of Valor for work during the 2001 Cerro Grande Fire, New Mexico’s largest wildfire at the time, which destroyed more than 400 homes. Her work was administrative and was performed in the Tactical Operations Center.

In 2018, Valdez received the New Mexico State Marshal’s Office plaque of appreciation for 12 years of service as chair of the New Mexico Fire Protection Grant Council.

In 2019, she received the Saint Francis of Assisi Medal of Service from Archbishop John C. Wester, Archdiocese of Santa Fe for her contribution to youth and adult ministry in the Catholic Church.


Congratulations and well wishes to Valdez for achieving this international award have flooded the Los Alamos Daily Post:

Deputy Chief Steve Dawald: Norma is an amazing member of the LAFD family.  Her contributions to the department and her commitment to continuous improvement through her role as Accreditation Manager are unparalleled.  I am honored to have been able to work with such a visionary role model.  Congratulations on this we’ll deserved achievement.

Retired Chief Doug MacDonald: This is wonderful news!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS Norma Jean!!!!! I’m so happy and proud of her for being a recipient of the Ray Picard Award. The CPSE does not give out this award every year, only when there is a candidate worthy of such, is it awarded. Ray and I worked many years together on Fire Service Accreditation and for Norma Jean to receive such a distinction, it is of the highest Honor, not only for her, but for the LAFD and LAC as well. Norma certainly reflects the drive, dedication, visionary attributes, desire to help folks, improvement of systems, leadership, and the PIONEERING SPIRIT of Ray Picard. By exhibiting those qualities day in and day out, Norma has certainly improved the lives of our firefighters and in turn, helped improve, in fact saved, the lives of citizens in our community. Ray would be very PROUD of Norma Jean, I know I AM! Way to go Norma Jean!!

Retired Chief Douglas McDonald: There is absolutely no individual in the Fire Service who deserves this prestigious award more than Norma Jean Valdez. From the beginning of this long and tedious process, Norma Jean understood the importance of achieving Accreditation for the Los Alamo Fire Department, and the impact to Los Alamos County, LANL, DOE and specifically the citizens of Los Alamos and surrounding communities. Thankfully through the years, Norma Jean remained tenacious and demanding in preparation, delivery, presentation and maintenance of the Accreditation Certification.

Retired Deputy Chief Justin Grider: Norma exudes the strength and confidence that any great leader has. As a former Deputy Chief for Los Alamos, I cherished the advice and insight I received from her while working with her. She is a positive force in the Fire Service and Los Alamos is extremely blessed because of her. Congratulations Norma and Los Alamos for your receipt of the Ray Picard Award.

Retired Division Chief Ramon Garcia: “I am so happy and proud of Norma, she is truly the heart and soul of LAFD. In my opinion, I’ve always said she is LAFD’s most treasured employee. Great job Norma!!”

Retired Battalion Chief Joseph Baca: “Congratulations Norma Jean!! Well deserved recipient of the Ray Picard award. Your dedication and hard work has always made our organization rise above the rest, and you have a way to keep us all on our toes expecting nothing less than our best. I am a better person for working alongside you, and a blessed man for having you as my friend. Lots of love and God Bless!”

Management Analyst – Accreditation Manager Xavier Anderson: What an accomplishment for Norma. This accomplishment recognizing what we at our Los Alamos Fire Department have already known and experienced. Norma is one of the hardest working individuals that I have had the experience to work for, but more so a mentor with spreading her knowledge and experience.

Retired Safeguards & Security Labor Relations Manager Sharyl Hofer: I remember coming to the County and hearing about “Norma Jean” she was the “lady at Fire Admin that knows everything”. Wow! Intimidating or what? But no, Norma is the most welcoming and unassuming person I have ever met! She has a wealth of knowledge and is always willing to share her love of Fire and Public Safety. Norma quickly became a favorite of mine, as a co-worker and friend. She is so deserving of this award!

Retired Battalion Chief Adam Muller: Congratulations Ms. Norma Jean Valdez. You truly have been the back bone of the Los Alamos Fire Department. Thank you for all you have done for our LAFD family.

Former LAFD Firefighter Emmy Louanne: Congratulations to an amazing lady!! LAFD is a one of a kind fire department thanks to you! Norma Jean Valdez much love and respect always!

James Salas: Congratulations and well deserved Norma. You are a champion of the Fire Service here in New Mexico and are very appreciated for all you have done.

Pojoaque Valley Alumni: Pojoaque alumni doing great things! The Ray Picard award is given to one person in the fire accreditation world. This award has been given to fire chiefs from all over, but never to a civilian nor a women. Norma Jean is the first civilian and the first woman to receive this prestigious award.

Parents Robert and Lucy Garcia: Norma, once again you have achieved the highest honor for representing something dear to your heart. Whether it’s your faith, profession or family you have always given it your all.  We are so blessed to have you as our daughter. Congratulations hita you are amazing. Te aventates!!!

Daughter Katarina Valdez: “Today I start this day as a very proud daughter! Mom there is not enough words for me to describe how amazing you are. You are so selfless. You put everyone and everything before your own needs. You go above and beyond in everything you do. You are a rock star! We love you! The Ray Picard award is given to one person in the fire accreditation world. Though most of us live our life having no idea what that entails. My mom’s work life revolves around accreditation. For over 25 years she has worked and perfected accreditation for the Los Alamos Fire Department and has shown remarkable leadership. The Ray Picard award has been given to fire chiefs from all over, but never to a civilian nor a women. Norma Jean is the first civilian and the first women to receive this prestigious award. My mom’s many years of sacrifice and drive to push harder and be better has shined through. She has earned this recognition and praise.”

Daughter Danielle J. Miera: To say we are beyond proud is the biggest understatement of the year! My mom has always dedicated her life to service both in her personal life as well as her professional life. My brother, sister, and I grew up in the LAFD fire family, one in which my mom has dedicated her entire professional life to. To see her earn and accept this prestigious award is gives us all great joy as we know how hard she has worked! Mom, to say thank you for all you have done doesn’t begin to cover how I feel. You have always been my biggest hero and watching your life’s work be recognized in such a manner makes me proud! You have always taught us to put God first in all that you do and he will make certain your hearts desires. We are so so proud of you. Congratulations on such an amazing honor, you truly deserve the recognition!

Son and Daughter-in-Law Nathan and Charlene Valdez: “What a rockstar! We’re so incredibly proud and lucky to have you as our Mom, you have taught us how to work hard and be proud of everything you do no matter how big or small it might seem, it all counts. Love you!”

Sister Deb Martinez: I’ve looked up to my sister with great admiration as long as I can remember.  Norma is selfless, strong, ambitious, faithful, and a God fearing woman who deserves recognition for her dedication to the Los Alamos County Fire Department, her commitment to working for achieving and maintaining Fire Accreditation and all this while she still has time for her loved ones.

Brother Robert “Bobby” Garcia: Dearest  Sister. We are so proud of you for the award you have received. As a wife, mother grandmother and daughter to be acknowledged in your career is another testament to the wonderful person you are. You have given so much of yourself it’s about time you received. Hold your head up and be proud, receiving is harder than giving. Know we are with you. And have a glass of champagne you are deserving of all the love and attention to come. With love, Bobby and Marlene.

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