Vashon Island Fire and Rescue
Vashon Island Fire and Rescue

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Dec 09, 2018

Former Chief Wil Spencer's Passing
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By Administration Susan Wolf
August 25, 2017

On August 17, 2017, Vashon lost one of its favorite sons – Wil Spencer. Although leaving us at an advanced age and having been ill, former Chief Spencer left a legacy with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s (VIFR) during its early years. Wil volunteered as a firefighter while still in high school. After graduating Vashon High School, college and spending a brief stint in the military, he again volunteered with King County Fire Protection District 13 as VIFR was then known in 1958. He rose to the rank of Captain and after only ten years was elected by his fellow members as Fire Chief by the then all-volunteer fire district. He served in that capacity two years.

One of Chief Spencer’s first accomplishments was implementing a new alert system using Plectrons. The devices generated a tone to those volunteers who had one (similar to a pager), followed by information about the call, the address and the apparatus needed. This replaced the loud sirens mounted on each fire station, which alerted the entire neighborhood.

Wil went on to become a career fire chief at three other departments, a Whatcom County Fire Marshal eventually worked as a state fire marshal. He also worked in wildfire Incident Command during the summer season. Most of those years and during retirement, he continued living on Vashon.

Wayne Senter, now Executive Director of the Washington Fire Chief, was hired in 1979 by Chief Spencer who was then leading Auburn Fire Department. He remembers Wil as a good man who looked after his people. Chief Spencer also had a great sense of humor. “I remember one time he played a joke on me while I was fetching morning donuts, as all rookies were expected to do. There was a tone out for a fire and our city crew of six responded. When I came back to the station, he was in his staff car and said with a stern face, ‘You missed the fire call.’ Then he peeled out of the parking lot leaving me to think that I had broken the cardinal rule. . . I threw the donuts down, heard on the radio where the fire was – just across the street – put on my bunkers and ran to the fire. When I got there it was a nothing fire and they were all standing in a circle laughing it up . . .”

Former VIFR Fire Chief Hank Lipe stated he was sorry to hear of Chief Spencer's passing. He remembered, “Wil had a tremendous passion for the fire service throughout his life. When we would get together for breakfast along with retired Chief Craig Harmeling, all he talked about was the fire service. . . He truly loved (it) and was always interested in VIFR happenings. He would give me a call when he became too ill to meet anymore just to check in with me to see how things were going. We would talk and I would try to get him caught up on things both locally and professionally.”

VIFR stands on the shoulders and successes of its early members who made foundational building blocks. We acknowledge with gratitude Chief Spencer’s enduring contributions.

Hyperlinks: Obituary from Vashon Beachcomber
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Vashon Island Fire & Rescue
10020 SW Bank Road
P.O. Box 1150
Vashon, WA 98070

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