Firefighter assumes spokesman role for South Whidbey Fire/EMS

Jon Gabelein - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jon Gabelein
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

When the next major landslide or raging fire occurs on South Whidbey, firefighters will be busy doing their jobs.

One volunteer will step out of the fight and into the limelight as the new public information officer for South Whidbey Fire/EMS.

Jon Gabelein, considered a legacy volunteer because of his family’s history with the fire protection district, will take off his firefighter helmet and relay information to the public during large-scale events.

“My goal is to try to build more of an overhead team,” said Fire Chief Rusty Palmer. “It’s useful for folks to get timely and on-the-spot information.”

Gabelein is a man of many titles. He’s a fourth-grade teacher at Coupeville Elementary School, an on-call emergency medical technician or EMT with Whidbey General Hospital, and a volunteer firefighter and EMT with South Whidbey Fire/EMS. Now, he can add PIO to his long list of titles and acronyms.

The idea of becoming the district’s spokesman was presented by Gabelein to the fire chief, who happily approved the training in Idaho earlier this year. After three days of instruction, Gabelein, a 13-year volunteer with South Whidbey Fire/EMS, learned how to gather information from the incident commander — the officer on-scene who organizes the crew — and from other agencies should they be involved.

One such event was the Central Whidbey landslide in late March, which included emergency work from several Whidbey Island and Island County agencies.

Using a public information officer streamlines the process of letting people know what’s happening, and tries to ensure the same details are shared to avoid conflicting reports.

“We know the public wants the information quickly, we know the public wants clear and accurate information,” Gabelein said. “We also want to take the opportunity to educate.”


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