In Will Highley’s early days with Auburn’s part-paid, part-volunteer department, there were some challenging moments.
“Sometimes, I was the only firefighter responding to 911 calls,” Highley recalled.
Like the time he arrived alone in a fire engine at an apartment fire, connected a hose to the hydrant and began preparing 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,” Highley said.
That was the moment Highley decided to apply with the old Auburn Fire Department, today known as the Valley Regional Fire Authority.
Thirty-seven years after his first day on the job, Highley has decided to retire.
“Just a cursory look at the achievements that Will has had in the fire service shows you his commitment to duty,” VRFA Fire Chief Brent Swearingen said in a news release. “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,” Swearingen said.
Highley spent his first six years as a firefighter in Parkland, Washington, before he applied for and got a job with the legacy Auburn Fire Department.
Throughout his career, according to the VRFA, Highley strove to expand his fire service knowledge through specialty areas. For six years, he was public information and education specialist, teaching fire safety in schools and emergency preparedness for community groups — a job he loved.
Next, Highly became a founding member of the department’s Wellness Camp and Fitness Team, working to improve the health of his co-workers.
He took part in the first Truck Academy, mastering aerial ladder skills and operations that subsequently moved the department to a higher level of professionalism, according to the VRFA.
His most recent and lengthiest role was as a respiratory specialist who tested and maintained self-contained breathing apparatus for more than eight years.
Highley also enjoyed helping with community events. He raised funds for 11 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 said he cherishes his memories of working with his station crew and bonding through the calls, downtime and meals shared together.
“Will is a professional through and through,” said Capt. Jordan Gustafson. “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,” Gustafson said.
Though Highley looks forward to “not setting an alarm clock,” he has no regrets. “I wouldn’t hesitate to do this job again. It has been great,” Highley said.
After Jan. 26, one will most likely find Highley hanging out with his family and enjoying his hobbies of cycling, hiking and camping.