For Mike Pauley, volunteer firefighting and service to his community have always been important. He has been a volunteer firefighter EMT and assistant chief at the Wishkah Fire Department for a total of 32 years, responding both to medical emergencies and fires all around the Wishkah Valley area.
Pauley is essentially on call 24/7, meaning when a fire was reported around 2 or 3 a.m. last month, he had to work through the whole night then go right to his day job as the maintenance director at the Aberdeen School District without any sleep.
“There’s a lot of coffee involved,” he joked.
But those who know him say Pauley never loses his can-do attitude, and they admire how invested he is in serving the community both in Wishkah Valley and the Aberdeen School District. Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard said Pauley stands out as a firefighter due to his knowledge of the area, as well as his dedication to the citizens he’s served for so many years.
It’s that approach to service that has earned Pauley recognition as The Daily World’s Firefighter of the Year for 2019.
The award is made annually in honor of Cosmopolis volunteer firefighter Denny York, who died after an industrial accident at the Cosmopolis Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in 1986.
Pauley has lived in the Wishkah Valley area his whole life, and his father served as an assistant fire chief for 15 years. But Pauley said the event that drew him to firefighting happened one night in January when he was 10. The family’s Christmas tree caught on fire, burning the house to the ground. He said that seeing the response by the fire department inspired him to join.
“Seeing all the people who showed up to help put the fire out, and knowing they do it for free, it just kind of drew me to that,” said Pauley.
After the incident, Pauley said previous Wishkah Fire Chief Bill Knannlien started showing him the ropes of the fire department, and in his senior year of high school Pauley joined as a firefighter EMT. In terms of background, Pauley got his EMT certification as a senior in high school, and later got fire service training at Bates Technical College in Tacoma.
Pauley and his wife Lucinda have two children. His son Mark, 25, now is a volunteer EMT in Wishkah district and his daughter Jessica, 28, lives in Shelton.
When told he was chosen for Firefighter of the Year, Pauley said he was surprised and humbled. It isn’t the kind of job one does for the recognition, he said.
“Knannlien always said, ‘We’re just neighbors helping neighbors,’ and that’s what draws me into doing it,” said Pauley. “I care about the community I live and work in, and enjoy that community service aspect of it.”
Because he works in Aberdeen, Pauley said he often has to make a quick decision of whether he can make it to a fire or medical emergency in time given that’s he’s stationed a ways away.
In his 13 years as assistant fire chief, Pauley has successfully juggled his work in Aberdeen as maintenance director, which means he sometimes has to leave town and drive up to parts of the rural Wishkah Valley area to respond to reports of fire or medical emergencies.
The current chief, Keldy Matthews, said he’s become good friends with Pauley, and views him as a “go-to guy” for anything going on in the fire department or otherwise.
“He doesn’t care what’s up; whatever issues I have in my life, I can always go talk to him,” said Matthews.
The Wishkah Valley community is one thing that makes Pauley’s job unique, as he said almost everyone knows each other or gets to know each other there. Pauley has served previously on the Wishkah Valley School Board, and as its president, according to Aberdeen’s assistant superintendent Jim Sawin.
Pauley described the Wishkah community as a place where all the neighbors help each other out, such as a recent winter when he would deliver firewood to a neighbor who’s delivery didn’t arrive.
Marv Townsend, Aberdeen School District’s former maintenance director who hired Pauley as an electrician, praised Pauley as someone who does the job and goes beyond, and said he could always tell Pauley was dedicated to helping the small but close-knit Wishkah community.
“Anything they can do to help each other out, they do, and Mike is probably number one,” said Townsend, who added Pauley is active in his church in Wishkah Valley.
Aside from firefighting work, Pauley has been a versatile asset to Aberdeen schools, constantly moving around the buildings to discuss maintenance issues, such as last school year when he was the first to respond to Aberdeen High School when a pipe broke and leaked coolant fluid, damaging classrooms and closing the school temporarily.
“He’s probably the nicest guy you could meet, and one of those giving people who, if it’s at all possible, will make it happen,” said Sawin, who added that the biggest difficulty with Pauley is getting him to take time off.
Sawin described Pauley as a very giving person, who always gets the job done unless something catastrophic happens. Pauley added that he enjoys how both his jobs at the fire department and the schools allow him to constantly be in service to the community.
“I always tell the (maintenance) crew, we’re in community service,” said Pauley. “Our customers are the kids, the staff and the community. With the school district it’s the same as the fire district where we serve that community.”
Townsend recognized the importance of Pauley’s service to community and respected it. “I could tell the fire department was his number one priority in life,” said Townsend. “It’s something he loves to do. So anytime they got a call and he needed to go, I let him.”
Pauley said he learned much of what he knows about maintenance on the job, and Townsend said whenever Pauley didn’t know something, he’d study it, making him an expert in many different areas of maintenance work.
Firefighter of the Year nominees
Stephanie Allestad, Fire District 8
Paul Nott, McCleary Fire Department
Monica Myers, Aberdeen Fire Department
Ryan Cline, Aberdeen Fire Department
Jeremy Laier, Aberdeen Fire Department
The Firefighter of the Year, Police Officer of the Year and Citizen of the Year will be honored at the Citizen of the Year Banquet June 27, at the Hoquiam Elks Lodge. Tickets are on sale now at The Daily World or by calling the newspaper at 360-532-4000.