Pioneers of the Delaware Fire ServiceMonday, June 15th, 2015, 11:28 am
This article is about two very active members of the Delaware Fire Service whom we all know, Debbie and Jim Watson (aka Little Shorty). They are currently active with the Delaware City Fire Company, but Jim’s fire service also includes memberships in the Castanea Fire Company in Pennsylvania,: the Wilmington Manor Fire Company and the Holloway Terrace Fire Company. Jimmy, joined the WMFC as a Junior member in 1974. I asked Jimmy why he joined the fire service and his response was, “to give back to the community through my service to them and the fact that my mom and dad were involved in the fire service.” Jimmy understands all too well what the fire service is all about since his dad, Vaughan ‘Shorty’ Watson served the WMFC as President and Chief, and his mom, Freda, was a past-President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the WMFC.
Jimmy received most of his fire service training at the DSFS, starting as a gofer and going on to be a Field Instructor. He also has taken classes at many conferences and at the National Fire Academy and is a certified instructor in BCLS. They are both members of the New Castle County CISM team.
As you can imagine, Jim is very passionate about safety and education. One of his greatest rewards is being able to teach and share his knowledge, skills and experiences with the younger generation.
In addition to his extensive fire service training, Jim attended DTCC and received an Applied Science Degree in Automotive Mechanics and is a certified diesel mechanic. He began working at the old Anchor Motor Freight at GM (Shorty also worked there). He left after 15 years and accepted a job with the DRBA as a Senior Maintenance Journeyman and has been there for 22 years.
During his career with the fire service, Jim has held many positions both in the departments that he has belonged to and also with New Castle County, the State of Delaware, other fire service organizations outside of Delaware and national organizations. Jim is a Life Member of the WMFC and past-President and Deputy Chief of WMFC; member of the Holloway Terrace FC and is currently an active Life Member of the DCFC. He has served as Safety Officer, Chief Engineer and currently serves on the Board of the DCFC and is the Building Chairman.
Jimmy has also been very active in many other fire service organizations in the county to include, past-President of the NCCFCA; Trustee for NCCVFA, Chair and co-Chair of the NCCVFA Muster Committee back in the 80s; past-President of the DSFCA; and District Representative for the NCCFAAB. He is currently serving as 2nd VP of the Delaware Valley Fire Chiefs Association.
All of his experience in the Delaware fire service organizations enabled him to move on to become President of the Eastern Division of the IAFC. Jim’s dad, Vaughan, also served as President of this association and, therefore, this was the first father and son to serve as presidents of the Eastern Division, IAFC.
In 2014, Jimmy assumed another role in the fire service as President of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a regional organization of members from VA; WV; MD; PA and DE. To honor this accomplishment the DCFC is proud to host the 114th Annual Convention to be held in Delaware City, July 29 thru August 1, 2015. Please come on down to historic Delaware City and enjoy the festivities, especially the parade on August 1, which starts at noon.
I asked Jim what was the most memorable fire or event he could recall and he said the AMOCO plant explosion/fire out outside of New Castle on River Road in 1980. WMFC was on the box and responded with L28 (ALF TDA) with Shorty driving and Jimmy on the tiller. He said it will be something that he will always remember – seeing the carnage and damage done and lives lost on that evening. He said that L28 was there until around 3pm the next day. Oh yeah, a lot of us missed the World Series playoffs that night, which had the Phillies winning!
I think I can sum up Jimmy’s fire service career to date with a quote he made as the outgoing President of the CVVFA last year. “A special thanks goes out to the officers and members of the DCFC for all their support and friendships over the years. I proudly represent Delaware and look forward to continuing to do so for a long time. I want to thank my parents for starting me in the fire service and giving me the sense of community service. I appreciate the support of my family and a special thanks to my wife Deb for the last 32 years. You come from a fire service family also and it has been great no matter where I go, no matter what I need, you are always there for me”.
If you think that all of these fire service activities have kept Jimmy busy, let me tell you what other organizations he has been active in or is a member of. The New Castle United MC; several Masonic organizations including Washington Lodge; St John’s Lodge; Nur Temple; the Consistory; and JOBS Daughters. He is a past-Associate Jurisdictional Guardian of Jobs Daughters of Delaware and past-Associate Guardian of Bethel #8, New Castle.
In addition to all of the above that he does, or did do, he still has time for hunting, fishing boating traveling and taking care of his Labs (his four legged kids) and his family, consisting of his lovely and wonderful wife, Deb, and two daughters, Tori and Jamie. Oh, and he just gained a son-in-law, Donnie!
I can’t leave out Debbie and the girls as they are just as active as Jimmy. Deb’s parents, Al and Eleanor Guthrie were active members of the Odessa Fire Company, and Ladies Auxiliary so it was in her blood to keep up the tradition. Deb joined the LA of the Odessa FC in 1977. She also served with the WMFC LA and is a past-President and HTFC LA. She has been with the DCFC since 1987. She attributes her service to following in her mom and dad’s footsteps, just like Jim.
Deb is currently serving as Secretary and Boardmember of the DCFC and has also achieved Life Member status with them. She served for many years as Treasurer for the NCCAA. She is currently the Secretary of the NCCVFA. Debbie was an important player on the NCCVFA Muster Committee along with Jimmy. She was our flapjack champion and handled the LA events along with the pajama parties they had.
Debbie said that a very low point for both her and Jim was the LODD of Michelle Smith. Michelle was just an awesome hard working person and is so dearly missed. It was heartwarming to experience the outpouring support from the fire service. It was unmatched in their eyes.
On the other side of the coin, she says she has always enjoyed traveling with Jim to functions like the IAFC, Eastern Chiefs; CVVFA; DVFA Conventions/Conferences; trips to the NYSFA Firemen’s home and the trips with Five Points FC to the racing competitions in Long Island (ask Deb about her shoestring problem whenever she went on the trips to NY), and all the other activities that her and Jim are involved in with their fire service family.
In addition to all of her fire service activities, Deb had time to earn a Bachelors Degree in Nursing from Wilmington College (my alma mater) in 1999 and, by the time you read this article, she will have completed her requirements to earn her Masters Degree in Nursing. She is also a member of Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing honors organization. Great job, Deb!
And, mind you, she did all of this while working full time as a RN for Christiana Care for the past 34 years. She is also a past-President of the Delaware Emergency Nurses Association and still found time to get her NREMT and DE-EMT ratings. She is also an instructor for ACLS, PALS, BCLS, TNCC (Deb will have to tell you what all those letters stand for). Deb also belongs to a lot of the same fraternal organizations as Jimmy.
I cannot forget Deb’s and Jim’s two bundles of joy, Tori and Jamie. They are both members of WMFC and DCFC. They both work in the medical field. They have made Jim and Deb very proud of all their accomplishments over the years. They have given them four legged, furry grandkids which are spoiled like crazy!
I don’t really know what else that I can say about these two Delaware Pioneers who have a combined total of 79 years in the fire service and continue to show their pride by volunteering in many organizations. Again, “it’s all in the family.” What a great family and legacy they have. I am proud to say that I have known them for some 30-plus years and also have spent many good times with them and their parents.
Next time you see them, please thank them for their contributions to the Delaware Fire Service.
By Bob Romig