A former firefighter’s “a-Maize-ing” journey to City Hall

WRITTEN BY: Rod Richardson
PHOTOS BY: Karen Lim

Donna Maize, Assistant City Manager for Public Safety

Donna Maize is a strong, intelligent leader with a passion for public service. If you doubt it, just ask some of the folks who worked with her during her 26 years with the Kansas City Fire Department.

But her impressive record at KCFD is relegated to memory now that she has replaced her uniform with business attire appropriate for a high-ranking administrator for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. As Assistant City Manager for Public Safety, Maize leads critical projects to help ensure the safety of thousands of people.

But don’t let her lofty new title lull you into thinking she is anything less than insightful, introspective and interesting.

Maize didn’t set out to secure an office on the 29th floor of City Hall. No, even as a little girl she knew she’d follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue a career with KCFD.

During that span, Maize racked up a list of exceptional career accomplishments:

  • Developed and implemented $35 million suppression fleet replacement project
  • Developed and implemented $2.6 million ambulance remount initiative, saving the City about $4 million
  • Prioritized for the department upgrading three facilities to gender-neutral standards

“I was fortunate to be born into and grow up with my KCFD family,” Maize said. “Without my father, who instilled the values of service and self-sacrifice, many mentors who provided valuable lessons along the way, co-workers who entrusted me with their safety, and specific chief officers who believed in me and let me fly; I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve grown most through failures and facing adversity. But, I am forever humbled by and grateful to those great men and women who served KCFD before me.”

Although she already had a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Central Missouri, Maize still started her KCFD career in 1992 at the bottom of the ladder. She ultimately became Assistant Fire Chief in 2014, managing a $166.6 million budget among other duties.

Along the way Maize earned a reputation for having an innate ability to work collaboratively with colleagues inside and outside KCMO city government.

“Donna’s experience, knowledge and leadership have been demonstrated throughout her career with the City and I’m sure that same level of excellence will continue in the future,” said Gene Shepherd, former KCMO Emergency Manager.

So, what do you do after you’ve mastered one career but you remain willing to step out of your comfort zone? Well, in Maize’s case, you accept City Manager Troy Schulte’s offer to exchange your personalized office at the KCFD Communications Center for a more modest space at 414 East 12th St.

“There’s always a little fear of the unknown when you’re starting something new, but I like having that challenge,” Maize said. “Plus I saw it as a chance to use my Master’s Degree (Public Administration, University of Kansas) in this new role.”

Maize is likely to bring the same sense of thoughtful urgency to her new job as she did at KCFD, where she earned accolades for her ability to share leadership opportunities with others.

“She demonstrates a willingness to listen to perspectives of other agencies and she lives public service values in her stewardship of resources,” said Erin Lynch, Emergency Services and Homeland Security Program Director for Mid-America Regional Council. “I appreciate her expertise, value her passion and sense of humor. I am proud to work with her and call her my friend.”

Pride also factors into Maize’s civilian life. A single mother of two daughters, ages 22 and 21, and a 9-year-old son, she’s ever conscious of the example she sets for her children.

“My ultimate gauge of success is on those occasions when I know my three kids – Erica, Kylie and Evan – are proud of me,” Maize said.

Although she doesn’t see herself as a role model for young women interested in pursuing careers in male-dominated professions, Maize still has a unique perspective when asked to offer career advice.

“I would tell them to be true to themselves,” Maize said. “I believe it’s just a matter of how you conduct yourself. For me, it all comes down to work ethic. Just be yourself.”