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Shields to hang fire helmet June 5
POULSBO Poulsbo Fire Chief Jim Shields remembers the pair of wingtip shoes he was wearing at the scene of a fire nearly 40 years ago. Not yet a volunteer with the department, Shields offered a helping hand to the men battling the blaze in a Noll Road barn that Saturday night, and his shoes became a casualty of the mud and water that covered the ground.
But the tradeoff was worth it, because in that experience, it was just like a switch went off, Shields said.
The following Monday, he was signing up as the newest member of Poulsbos then all-volunteer force. He didnt even have to think about it, he said. It was love at first fire fight.
It was just something that connected with me, he said. It was the people coming together, working as a unit to combat this horrifying thing that happened to this family.
After nearly 40 years with the department, its no surprise Shields office walls are now covered in honorary plaques and certificates. Photos from years of service, a shelf full of fire helmets and even a few golfing trophies tell the tale of a man whos leaving a big legacy behind and some big boots to fill.
Shields will step down after 39 years of service 23 of them as chief June 5.
Since that first fire in 1969, Shields worked his way up the ranks of the department, from firefighter to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief and assistant chief. In 1985, the title of chief became his.
Since his start, hes seen all kinds of changes. From the merging with Keyports department and the consolidating into one fire district separate from the city to the construction of a new fire house, the advances in technology and tactics and the shift from fire-only response to emergency medical services, Shields said the evolution has been one of which hes proud.
But one thing, he said, has stayed the same.
Good people. Good people trying to help their fellow neighbors, help their community. A deep, sincere interest in being the best they can be, he said.
Though the 63-year-old is about to hang his chiefs hat for the last time, he still, like that very first fire, sees the value in putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.
When you get on the scene, things get better, he said. Theres a good feeling about that.
The department is now fielding an increasing number of calls, 70 percent of which are for medical needs. Shields has helped to steer the modernization of the department in a process he said was full of learning.
His father and son have both been members of the department at one time or another. Its been a family tradition, and, he said, a way of giving back.
The citizens of our community have been incredibly supportive. My wife and I (Ginger) have been so blessed having this position, he said. How many people can have a career out of what started as a hobby, a passion?
Shields said hes equally excited for the future, and the next chapter in his and Gingers lives. He said hes looking forward to remodeling his house, traveling on his Harley and tinkering with his newly acquired 64 Oldsmobile 442. He and Ginger are members of several area service organizations.
Hell also remain a supporter of the department hes helped to build. The board of commissioners is currently in the search and interview process.
Ill be watching from the sidelines, cheering em on, he said.
The team of 49 employees and 25 volunteers is a close-knit one, and has become a second family for Shields.
Two-year Poulsbo Fire Deputy Chief Thomas ODonohue said Shields long run is a rare one, as the national average for holding a fire chief position is just five years.
A fire chief that has lasted this long says an awful lot about his dedication to the community and the professionalism he has on the job, ODonohue said. When moving here from Pacific County, not only was this position that I got considered the best job to get in Washington state at the time, but also Chief Shields had a remarkable reputation as just a phenomenal fire chief.
That reputation is one built over four decades decades Shields said have been outstanding.
By and large, its been a unique and wonderful experience, he said. I cant think of anything Id rather have done.
ODonohue said even in his two years on the job next to Shields, hes learned much from the longtime leader. He hopes Shields presence around the fire department headquarters continues.
Its been a privilege to work with him, and I dont just say that because its the right thing to say. I really believe it, ODonohue said. The doors always open and the coffees always on for Chief Shields.