Terry Welch: Volunteer firefighter, science teacher, adventurer

South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer Terry Welch pauses for a picture while bicycling in Eastern Washington. Welch is also a teacher at Coupeville Middle School.  - Contributed photo
South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer Terry Welch pauses for a picture while bicycling in Eastern Washington. Welch is also a teacher at Coupeville Middle School.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Ohana. It means “family” in the Hawaiian language, and it’s how a former South Whidbey firefighter colleague described to Terry Welch what the experience of firefighting would be like.

That was more than 12 years ago.

“He was right, and I still feel it every day,” said Welch, a volunteer firefighter and EMT with South Whidbey Fire/EMS. “There’s a strong connection with the community, too,” she said. “That’s so important.”

If the multi-faceted Welch could be described as being about any one thing, it’s being connected with the community. She has been a science teacher at Coupeville Middle School for 17 years. And the journey to that role, as well as firefighting, came from a connection of experiences spanning several years.

Welch grew up in Chicago, and then went to college at Colorado State University where she earned a degree in forestry. During the summers, she worked for the Bureau of Land Management as a firefighter.

“I loved it, even though it could be difficult being one of very few women on the crew,” said Welch. “Yet being outdoors and helping control fires was an amazing experience.”

She also discovered she loved teaching and undertook a teaching certificate in science education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. After completing her studies, a bit of wanderlust took over. Welch spent two years teaching in a town on the northern coast of Colombia in South America, then headed back to the U.S., landing at Northern Arizona University where she went on to complete a master’s in biology education.

Although Welch loved the Southwest, she headed north to Seattle to be closer to her father. While she searched for teaching jobs, she spent time looking for spotted owls with the Department of Natural Resources. Then a Coupeville teaching position opened up and Welch moved to Whidbey Island, or “paradise” as she calls it.

“I love living here, although at first I had a hard time with the overcast days,” said Welch. “But island life is great. My neighbors are awesome, the mountains are near, and it’s a rural area with a big city nearby.”

Occasionally, work and volunteering coincide, like the time Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue worked with Coupeville Middle School to stage a flash mob for students, showing them how to perform hands-on CPR on mannequins, all to the beat of the Bee Gees song, “Stayin’ Alive,” which matches a life-saving rhythm. All middle school students were then trained in their science classrooms that day to learn this technique.

It’s not all work and volunteering for Welch. She is an avid bicyclist and has taken several seven and 10-day trips throughout the western states. It’s not unusual for her and her friends to go out for a “short” ride of 30 miles.

Welch enjoyed a three-week safari to South Africa last summer. The trip was organized by Global Exploration for Educators and was geared to teachers. She traveled through Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique.

Welch says South Whidbey Fire/EMS is a great organization. The training, structure, codes of conduct and teamwork really appeal to her. She encourages others to volunteer, and to not let age, gender, fear of making mistakes or current lack of skills keep you from trying.

“You need a willingness to learn,” said Welch. “And the skills you gain are invaluable. You’ll know how to handle emergency situations in ways that protect you, your family and neighbors.”


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