Thirty-seven years after his first day as a firefighter, Will Highley has decided to retire. Highley began his career in Parkland, Washington, and after six years there, applied with, and was hired by the Auburn Fire Department, now VRFA.
In his early days, working for a part-paid, part-volunteer department presented some challenging moments. “Sometimes, I was the only firefighter responding to 9-1-1 calls,” said Highley. He recounted a harrowing call to an apartment fire where he arrived alone in the fire engine, connected a hose to the hydrant, and was ready to enter the burning structure alone. “I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see a volunteer firefighter had arrived, just in time.” It was then that he decided to apply with the Auburn Fire Department and has never looked back.
Throughout his career, Highley has strived to expand his fire service knowledge through specialty areas. He served six years as a Public Information and Education Specialist, enjoying teaching fire safety in schools, and emergency preparedness for community groups. Next, Will became a founding member of the department’s Wellness & Fitness Team and worked to improve the health of his co-workers. He also took part in the first Truck Academy, mastering aerial ladder skills and operations that subsequently moved the department to a higher level of professionalism. His most recent and lengthy role was that of a Respiratory Specialist, where he tested and maintained self-contained breathing apparatus for over eight years.
“Just a cursory look at the achievements that Will has had in the fire service shows you his commitment to duty. He has always been a dedicated and active member of our department, right up to the end of his active service. Just this past November, Will received a letter of commendation for a rescue that he performed with his crew at a house fire in September of 2020. What his resume does not show is the way he performed his duties with grace and good humor,” said Fire Chief Brent Swearingen.
Highley also enjoyed helping with community events. He raised funds for eleven years through his participation in the MS Ride as part of the VRFA cycling team, and he never missed an opportunity to help with the annual holiday Toys for Kids drive.
Highley says he will cherish his memories of working with his station crew and bonding through the calls, downtime, and meals shared together. Those who have worked with Will attest to his easy-going but hard-working nature.
“Will is a professional through and through. His dedication to his profession is evident every time he walks into the firehouse. Will is flat out a hard worker who takes his career very seriously. He is a joy to work with around the firehouse, on routine calls, and major incidents. His dedication, professionalism, and courage are infectious, and he will be missed,” said Captain Jordan Gustafson.