Dow executive gives up suit for South Whidbey Fire/EMS firehose

Ken Starkweather volunteers as a South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer firefighter after a career with Dow Chemical.  - Photo courtesy of South Whidbey Fire/EMS
Ken Starkweather volunteers as a South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer firefighter after a career with Dow Chemical.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of South Whidbey Fire/EMS

Corporate suit is not the image that comes to mind when first meeting Ken Starkweather.

Yet that’s how he describes his former life as an executive with Dow Chemical. Not that his life was unfulfilling. On the contrary, he worked all over the world and made dear friends wherever he lived.

But two things made Starkweather change his uniform: a chance for early retirement and a place called Whidbey Island. That was almost 15 years ago. Now, you couldn’t convince Starkweather or his wife Debbie to live anywhere else.

“Our toes are dug in deep,” Starkweather said. “Although I had a different idea back then about what my retirement would be like.”

Like many corporate executives who have fantasies of leisurely life on the golf course, Starkweather thought he too might live his days on the links. But he was young, robust and wanted to do more. By chance, at a Kiwanis breakfast the chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS told him he was looking for volunteer firefighters.

“I think it may have been a midlife crisis, wanting to fight fires,” said Starkweather. “I talked it over with my wife, and she said given certain midlife crisis alternatives that other men have, I would live longer being a firefighter.”

He went through training, loved the action and the connection with colleagues and community. Soon enough, golf began to get in the way of volunteer life as a firefighter and that was just fine with Starkweather.

He is now the Emergency Medical Service Operations Lieutenant, a first-line district supervisory role. Starkweather helps facilitate medical operations and the mobile emergency response vehicles (MERVs), keeps protocols current, and helps Lt. Liz Smith with the training of district personnel.

This year, he decided to focus on emergency medical technician duties.

“When I first started volunteering, I was only interested in firefighting,” said Starkweather. “But 75 percent of calls are for medical needs, and you can see immediate results with the care you provide, even if it’s just calming people’s nerves.”

While he is proud of his career accomplishments and recognition in the corporate world, Starkweather says there are few things that offer the satisfaction of helping someone in need.

“I might be happy living anywhere, but it’s the involvement in the Whidbey community that makes for a great balance,” said Starkweather. “My neighbors are magnificent. People come up and thank me for helping them. Life is good.”


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