Fire department welcomes new chief

Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue has a new chief at the helm.

Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue has a new chief at the helm.

Jerry Helm, a lifelong Whidbey resident and longtime Central Whidbey firefighter, was officially sworn in as fire chief Tuesday. He has been serving as interim chief since the beginning of the year, following the retirement of former fire Chief Ed Hartin.

Helm’s first encounter with the department happened early in his childhood. His father was a volunteer firefighter with Central Whidbey Fire, and Helm said he enjoyed tagging along at the station as early as 6 or 7 years old.

“My reward for getting my homework done and being good in school was I got to go to Monday night trainings with him,” Helm said.

Despite his early enthusiasm for the fire service, Helm’s career took a circuitous route back to the department. After graduating from Coupeville High School, he earned an associate’s degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design from ITT Technical Institute in Pennsylvania and returned to Whidbey to work for Island County Public Works.

It wasn’t until 1999, when Helm became a volunteer firefighter at Central Whidbey Fire, that he “quickly decided I was in the wrong field.” Within five years, he had transitioned to a full-time career position at the department.

“I quickly found my new love and jumped into the fire service,” he said.

Helm has been with Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue ever since, and has served in nearly every role possible within the department, including volunteer lieutenant, career lieutenant and captain.

“We’ve watched Jerry grow through the ranks,” fire Commissioner Cheryl Engle said. “He’s had every job in the fire department that there is to be, so he knows it all.”

Engle, who swore Helm in as chief on Tuesday, shared that she had the pleasure of knowing Helm as a child when she was a teacher at Coupeville Elementary School.

“He was in my first grade classroom,” she said. “I loved him then, and I love him now.”

Helm said that looking back on his many years with the department, he is most proud of the relationships he has developed, both internally within the department and with members of the community. Now, as chief, he hopes to continue that legacy of transparency and communication with the public.

Like many fire departments around the country, Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue is facing staffing challenges. Helm said the fire commissioners will soon discuss the possibility of a levy lid lift meant to address staffing shortages that would appear on the November ballot.

The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. June 8. Members of the public can attend in person at the fire station located at 3253 Day Road in Greenbank, or watch the livestream on the department’s Facebook page.

Helm said he is looking forward to beginning this new chapter of his career.

“It’s not very often that a hometown boy gets to come in and continue on the good traditions as the fire chief,” he said.

Fire Commissioner Paul Messner said he and other district personnel are thrilled to have Helm leading the department and hope to enjoy his leadership for many years to come.

“We’ve been very blessed to have a chief that was here for, I believe, 22 years, and one for 13 years, and we’re hoping Jerry is going to pass that record,” he said.