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Erick Westphal is leaving the department this month to pursue new adventures.

“Your job will be to serve those who serve.”

That’s what Deputy Chief Jon Beck said to Erick Westphal when he became a member of the maintenance team for South Whidbey Fire/EMS in 2012. That’s not the first time he’d heard that command, nor the first time he’d rose to the challenge.

He’d heard it before when deploying for Desert Storm in the early 1990s. A military veteran of 22 years, Westphal at the time was in the Army Reserve and part of the medical team. Upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia he watched his fellow soldiers board the bus that would take them to the transport plane. Westphal had been asked to stay behind, and was wondering why.

That’s when his commanding officer spoke the same words as Deputy Chief Beck — “it will be your job to serve those who serve.” Turns out, his experience as a full time infantryman in his early years in the Army made him particularly well suited for front lines in a Combat Support Hospital.  This experience in his later years as a First Sergeant enabled him to make sure the medical company was “battle-ready.” For the Now, he makes sure South Whidbey’s fire fighters and EMTs are “emergency-ready.”

As a member of the fire department’s maintenance team, he assisted in keeping the volunteer’s equipment, vehicles and buildings in shape for any emergency.  “Like many kids, I had a dream of driving a fire truck,” said Westphal. “As a member of the maintenance crew, I finally got to do that!”

As a kid, Westphal grew up quickly, and spent some time as a teenager living in a group home. Just four days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the military, and while his life took a few twists and turns—including leaving and then returning to the military—he eventually found his path helping others. He also found a calling helping young people who had similar problems he did growing up.

“Through military, medical and social service work, I became the man I was supposed to become,” said Westphal.

And also, it seems, the life he is supposed to live. Westphal and his wife, Sue Averett, lived just a mile from each other in San Jose. They even worked in the same building, but didn’t meet until later in life when they ended up working side by side for the County of Santa Clara, California. In fact, Sue became his supervisor for a time. Eventually, they became a couple and married.

Sue, a native of Seattle, wanted to move back to the Northwest. Together, they visited Whidbey Island four times before finding the house they call a “place for healing,” which is appropriate, given Sue is a Reiki master and teacher. Falling in love with their new home and Whidbey Island, they used their photography skills to publish a book of island images, Whidbey Magic, a tribute to a place that has brought magic into their lives.

“Working with the fire department,” Westphal says, “is to clearly see and understand the purpose of serving community.”

“Our volunteers are really smart with responsibilities of school, jobs, family and kids. Yet here they are going out on emergency calls and keeping up on extensive training,” said Westphal. “I so appreciate the sacrifice they make to serve our community.  It has been an honor to serve them.”


Story by Nan Gage

Photo by Erick Westphal

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