After more than three decades in firefighting, Yelm area resident Dan Mahoney has a title he’s never had before: chief.
Mahoney became chief of Lewis County Fire District 5 in Napavine on Aug. 1 after spending his firefighting career — most of which was on a volunteer basis — at numerous departments throughout Thurston County.
“I just look forward to what’s coming up,” said Mahoney, who added that with such a short amount of time in the area, he’s learning the ropes and asking a lot of questions. He said one of his short-term goals is to develop a strong working relationship with city officials and the community.
“Communication is my No. 1 thing that I believe in,” he said.
Mahoney, a New York state native, said he came to Washington after a stint in the Navy. He ended up on Whidbey Island and has stayed in the Evergreen State ever since. He met his wife, and they’ve been married for 42 years, and they now have three sons — two are career firefighters and one is a Life Flight helicopter pilot.
His interest in firefighting started after one of his sons sustained a serious injury falling out of a tree. They were living in Yelm at the time. Mahoney was “chastened” by a doctor for his lack of emergency medical skills, so he went to the local fire department to learn more about first aid, and that prompted his first volunteer firefighting position in 1987.
From there, he went to Rainier, then to DuPont and finally to Southern Thurston County. He went from being a volunteer firefighter to a having a career position about 10 years ago.
He’s most recently worked as a training officer and fire marshal, and as a manager of Thurston County’s fire academy, which is what put him in contact with District 5’s interim chief Laura Hanson. Hanson would send her firefighters and medics up to Thurston County for training, so Mahoney said he got to know District 5’s people.
More recently, he was contacted by District 5, asking if he would consider applying for the recently advertised chief position. Opportunity knocked and Mahoney said he answered.
When asked what it is about firefighting that has captured his interest, Mahoney said: “Nowhere else can you go into someone’s house in the middle of the night in their worst moment and have them turn around as you’re packing them up and have them hand you the keys and trust you so emphatically,” he said.
That feeling, coupled with the exciting uncertainty of what any day, or really any minute, might bring have kept him in the profession, he said.
“We call it ‘the gray area.’ You never really know what you’re going to be doing the next five minutes,” he said.
The largest difference between Lewis County and Thurston County’s firefighting setup is the size of the county, and how spread out the districts are from one another, he said. That being said, he was still pleased with the turnout from area districts to a recent fire in Winlock and the turnout at a recent chiefs meeting.
So far, Mahoney said he’s enjoying the position, and he’s happy with what he’s found in Napavine. He said he looks forward to further building the department and working collaboratively with his firefighters and other district chiefs.