Poulsbo Fire Chief Jim Shields with the department’s 1918 American LeFrance, a duplicate of Poulsbo Fire’s first engine. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Poulsbo Fire Chief Jim Shields with the department’s 1918 American LeFrance, a duplicate of Poulsbo Fire’s first engine.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

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, it’s 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 who’s 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, he’s seen all kinds of changes. From the merging with Keyport’s 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 he’s 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 chief’s 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. “There’s 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. It’s 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 he’s equally excited for the future, and the next chapter in his and Ginger’s lives. He said he’s 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.

He’ll also remain a supporter of the department he’s helped to build. The board of commissioners is currently in the search and interview process.

“I’ll 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 O’Donohue 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,” O’Donohue 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, it’s been a unique and wonderful experience,” he said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather have done.”

O’Donohue said even in his two years on the job next to Shields, he’s learned much from the longtime leader. He hopes Shields’ presence around the fire department headquarters continues.

“It’s been a privilege to work with him, and I don’t just say that because it’s the right thing to say. I really believe it,” O’Donohue said. “The door’s always open and the coffee’s always on for Chief Shields.”

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