Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk with Jim Wamsley, Fire Chief for the Rock Springs Fire Department. Jim has been in the fire service profession for about 18 to 19 years. He describes his job as “the most challenging and the most rewarding experience,” he’s ever had.
A Wyoming native, Jim has lived in Evanston, Green River, and Rock Springs for his entire life. He loves the people in Sweetwater County and throughout the state, and he appreciates the sense of freedom Wyoming provides. Jim is an active member in the community, and he is a great example of the amazing people Sweetwater County has. And he does it all while rocking a pretty awesome mustache!
Jim, can you walk us through your career in fire service?
I began my Fire Service career as a member of the Plant Emergency Organization for Church & Dwight Co. Inc. in 1992. I earned my Firefighter I, Basic Emergency Response and OHSA Haz-May certifications along with becoming certified as a confined space rescue and high-angle rope rescue technician and instructor. Our training regimen was very thorough and the team trained with a goal of being able to perform our skills proficiently to be able to help our coworkers and our employer in emergencies.
In the winter of 2001 or 2002, during a stroll through the White Mountain Mall, I saw a recruiting booth asking for Volunteer Firefighters to join Sweetwater County Fire District 1. I joined and became a Volunteer Fire Captain and eventually Chief of the Department. I served nine years in that role before becoming the Fire Chief for the Rock Springs Fire Department.
I have truly enjoyed my career in the Fire Service! I received a Bachelors degree in Fire Science from Purdue Global University and attended the National Fire Academy, achieving Executive Fire Officer designation in 2011.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I have always wanted to be able to make a difference in the world and help make it a better place. The Fire Service has provided a fulfillment of that desire on many levels. The Fire Service is the Swiss-Army knife of public safety, responding to every kind of emergency while also working to prevent those same incidents from occurring. Public education and community interaction allow us to teach people first how to stay safe, and also what to do in the event of an emergency.
The Fire Service has been the most challenging and the most rewarding experience I have undertaken.
How can the community practice fire safety this summer?
Summer is a wonderful time – especially here in our area where temperatures are mild and outdoor activities are plentiful. The best practices are first check the weather. As things begin to dry out “Red-Flag” warnings begin to occur. During red-flag days all Fire starts can be expected to grow quickly and extreme fire behavior is very likely.
Fires for warmth and cooking are safest in a commercial appliance with a spark arrestor. When camping or during other outdoor activities, if there are no fire restrictions in effect, make sure to clear an area of all vegetation and combustibles six feet in all directions of the fire ring before lighting the fire. In all cases have a garden hose or other means of extinguishment nearby just in case.
Lastly leave fireworks to the professionals. Fireworks are illegal in the City of Rock Springs and on all Federal lands.
You also serve with the COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Operation Center. How has that experience been?
The COVID-19 situation has certainly been a challenge for our nation and the world. The EOC was stood up to help ensure continuity of local government and to help provide timely and accurate information to the cities and county, and our communities and to help support local businesses and industry during the crisis. I was honored to serve as the Deputy Incident Commander with Doc Wendling as Incident Commander. We worked with a group of talented, passionate people to help provide information, support local efforts to keep the curve flat and support the efforts of Public Health.
It has been very busy, and although the Incident Management Team doesn’t meet as often as during March, April and May, our Public Health Nurses and County Health Officer continue to work countless hours to perform contact tracing of those testing positive, monitor testing efforts, communicate with the State Health Officer and County Attorney about exceptions, and continue the public education and awareness campaign to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
It is great to be able to work with such dedicated people. At the same time I have been very proud of our community and how we support and look out for each other.
What other boards are you involved with in the community?
At the local level I am on the Rock Springs-Sweetwater Airport Board, the Sweetwater Combined Communications Board, Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the Sweetwater County Ambulance Service Board. I am also on the Senior Advisory Council for the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and the Wyoming State Emergency Response Commission. I am on the Board of Directors for the International Association of Fire Chiefs; I represent the Missouri Valley Division which is comprised of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
What is something unique about you?
I like to whistle and often do it without realizing it. Also, I can grow a pretty good mustache…
How did you end up in Rock Springs?
I have lived in southwest Wyoming almost my entire life, moving from Evanston to Green River when the I-80 was being built. My Dad was a mechanic for the construction company doing the work. I graduated from Green River High School in 1981 and moved to Rock Springs in 1994.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
Without a doubt the wonderful people who call it home. I am constantly amazed at how caring our community is and how everyone looks out for each other. We may have our differences, but when the chips are down you can ALWAYS count on people to help each other.
What are your some of your hobbies?
I like old cars – especially muscle cars from the 60’s and early 70’s. I drove a 1964 GTO in high school that was a lot of fun and I still have the 1971 Chevelle I bought when I got out of high school. Me and that car have had some good experiences over the years and not few arguments. I am slowly working on restoring it.
I also enjoy being outdoors, hunting and fishing and taking rides with my wife Alisa on our Harley.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
Honor is the gift given to yourself. Tolerance and consideration are those you share with the world.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
At home, or poking around almost anywhere in our area. I think our local area is among the most striking anywhere. I believe Irish Canyon and Brown’s Park rival the Tetons. It has a stark beauty that shouts freedom and the views are exhilarating all year long!
What would you sing at karaoke night?
I actually enjoy singing and like George Thoroughgoood and George Strait. I think my range is closer to Strait’s but I enjoy some slide-guitar!
Would you rather walk, ride a bike, take a horse, or drive a car?
Although I enjoy riding horseback (haven’t done for a long time now) hands-down I’ll take a big block Chevelle for a spin any day. I’m kind of a transmission snob – it would have to have a 4-speed. One carburetor is good, two or three are better! Those old muscle cars have character and style that I don’t see in a modern vehicle. And you better bring your A-Game they don’t stop or corner well. They do pretty well in a straight line during sudden starts…
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
Being a good father/step-father to our kids and a being a good husband.
Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
Sam Elliot… mustache and loads of character!
Why do you choose to continue living in Wyoming?
The incredible sense of freedom and the great people who make it a gem of a place to live! Even driving across I-80 the vastness of our open spaces remind me of how small we are and how important it is to use every moment to the best good.