South Whidbey Fire/EMS recently seated a new member on its board of commissioners.
Freeland resident Adrienne Blythe Hawley assumed the commissioner role at the start of the new year, replacing longtime board member Bob Elliot.
Elliot retired after 18 years as a commissioner.
According to Blythe Hawley, she initially looked at joining the department as a volunteer firefighter before learning of a leadership opportunity.
“While looking forward to joining the fire department, it was an election year with an open seat to be one of the commissioners,” Blythe Hawley said. “I thought this might be a new opportunity and challenge.”
She added she doesn’t plan to rejoin as a volunteer to “fully dedicate myself to my new role as commissioner.”
Blythe Hawley steps into her six-year term as a past volunteer member of South Whidbey Fire/EMS, a trait shared with the other commissioners. She was once a firefighter and member of the ropes rescue, marine rescue and vehicle extrication teams before she temporarily moved to Ireland to lecture at Irish universities.
Blythe Hawley currently works as a Washington State Park Ranger and has worked at Deception Pass State Park and others on the island.
Chief Rusty Palmer says that previous volunteer experience is important to have in her new role.
“What I believe she brings is the perspective of a volunteer, even if things have changed a lot since she was a volunteer,” Palmer said. “She’s extremely intelligent and has very sound skills in what we need as a commissioner: how to recruit and retain people, using social media, etc.”
Although new to the position, Blythe Hawley has a name that some on Whidbey Island might recognize. She’s the daughter of former sheriff and current South Whidbey precinct commander Mike Hawley.
She’s also South Whidbey Fire/EMS’ first female commissioner. Palmer said it’s important to add diversity to the board, as 40 percent of the district’s team are women. It’s hardly been on her mind, however.
“Being the first female fire commissioner isn’t really something I have thought about,” Blythe Hawley admitted.
With years of experience in education and volunteerism, Blythe Hawley hopes to find ways to better engage South Whidbey in order to increase volunteerism in the area. The fire department’s volunteer numbers have decreased in the past 15 years, leading to the district having to find creative solutions to make up the numbers, such as opening its borders to out-of-district volunteers.
Palmer pointed to her volunteer experience with South Whidbey Fire/EMS and AmeriCorps as encouraging signs that she’ll help the district find solutions to its volunteer problem.
“I think if we can improve our community engagement, we might be able to inform the community in some of the ways they could volunteer,” Blythe Hawley said.