Firefighter’s legacy on Whidbey still felt today

Robert Spinner, 50, a founding member of Whidbey Island Professional Firefighter’s Association, died of a heart attack July 14, leaving Whidbey firefighters to remember his lasting legacy.

For Capt. Jerry Helm, training officer for Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, Spinner was an irreplaceable best friend and mentor.

“He was a really, really good friend of mine,” Helm said. “When I first got in the department, he was kind of the solid rock. He was always to the point — there wasn’t a lot of guessing on the way he wanted the calls to be ran or the incidents to be ran.”

Helm said Spinner was the training officer when he got started as a Central Whidbey volunteer firefighter. In that position, Spinner trained a whole generation of firefighters. And his contributions to fire safety are still felt to this day.

“I had the upmost respect for the guy,” Helm said. “He was very dedicated around here and did a lot of things for the department.”

For example, when Spinner co-founded Whidbey Island Professional Firefighter’s Association — Local 4299 — it was the only professional firefighters outfit on the island outside of the base, Helm said. The idea was for all firefighters on Whidbey to eventually join up.

While that dream went unrealized as first envisioned, Helm said it took on a new form, inspiring firefighting locals all across the island, laying groundwork for folks who might not even know his name.

Spinner served on Whidbey during the late ’90s and early 2000s, before his career took him elsewhere, eventually landing him as interim fire chief in Lynden. It was there that Spinner collapsed with an apparent heart attack while running, according to the Lynden Tribune.

Helm said Spinner held athleticism in high regard.

“He was very competitive,” Helm said. “We’d do our annual physical agility test and we’d always compete against each other.”

Spinner didn’t just care about the job, but the people in the job as well, Helm said. That support was extended to islanders even after Spinner’s career took him elsewhere.

“When I finally got promoted to an officer position, he was there when I got my officer badge pinned on me,” Helm said. “Even after he wasn’t here, he did have a lot of support for me and the department moving forward, seeing things move on and seeing that end result of all the hard work he put in.”