By Pam Dudding, Contributing Writer
For many different reasons, lives are at risk every single day. When a fire engulfs one’s home, much devastation and grief also engulf lives of that family, and a more than grateful feeling comes across one when the big red fire trucks zoom in on one’s catastrophe.
Local volunteer firefighters in Craig County are people who give out of their hearts with fervor and deep compassion.
On August 28, at Fire Station 5, the Upper Craig Creek Volunteer Fire Department dedicated their Engine 51 to Chief Shawn Matheney and Jake Waller, President of the Board.
It was a surprise to both.
Hunter Matheney, the Assistant Chief, spoke for the squad and the community.
“Let me first start with thanking everyone in attendance for being here tonight. It personally means a lot as I know it means a lot to the department,” he said. “I speak on behalf of each of our members.”
He continued, “Many know why we are all gathered here tonight, but some ‘we hope’ do not. These two gentlemen, that hopefully do not know why, are two men that the department and the community has needed for years, as these two men have spent countless hours working towards the better good for this department and this valley.”
He noted that both men have held key roles in the fire department’s latest success.
“As John Maxwell says best, ‘Leaders become great not because of their power but, because of their ability to empower others.’”
Hunter spoke of both men.
“Jake is the President of our Board of Directors and a very reliable member. At the drop of a hat and a phone call later, Jake will be in motion to come help do anything you ask of him. It just might take him a few minutes to get him up and moving. (People joined him in a chuckle.) Jake has been one of the biggest assets to this department since the reopening. There is no project too big or small for Jake. He even makes a Sam’s run to get grape soda and cheese for the Chief.”
Hunter added, “I have known Jake for over ten years and can remember following him around Station 8 (the volunteer rescue squad building) when I was little, watching him do odds and ends jobs fixing this and replacing that, thinking to myself one day I hope I’ll be as smart as that guy.”
Hunter addressed Jake, “The department, as a whole, does not give you enough appreciation that you deserve. And with that, myself, along with the department, thank you for everything you do to keep this firehouse growing.”
Matheney is the Chief of the UCCVFD and has been for about 18 months.
It was noted by his wife, Heather, that when he was only 15, he was with the Fire Department and would ride his bike and beat the members to the station who were driving their vehicles. Matheney is also a life member of Dunlap Fire and Rescue prior to moving to Craig and becoming a member of New Castle Station 4. He then was Chief of Craig County Rescue for numerous years. When Billy Chrimes moved out of the area, Matheney was voted in as Chief.
Hunter then turned to address him, who is also his dad.
“Now Chief, over the last 23 years of my life you have been an officer in some capacity, whether that was for fire or rescue. But a childhood dream of mine was that I would one day be able to officially call you Chief and volunteer under your leadership,” said Hunter with sincerity. “I have learned so many life lessons from who you are, that if I start naming them, we would be here for the next few days. But with that said, I would not be standing right here today without your guidance. I know without a doubt you have changed the lives of hundreds of people with your kind touch and strong words. I have gotten to witness the positive atmosphere you have set for this department and how you strive for every one of us to succeed, be that in our personal lives or in the firehouse. I am excited to see where you take us next. As Johnathan Slusher always says you never give yourself enough credit, and that just shows your character in multitudes.”
Quickly adding, “Dad thank you for showing me the ropes and on behalf of the department thank you for always believing in us when we don’t believe in ourselves.”
Hunter addressed both Shawn and Jake, “On behalf of Upper Craig Creek Volunteer Fire Department it is with great honor that we are going to dedicate Engine 51, a 2001 Pierce Contender, to Chief Shawn Matheney and President Jacob Waller. Gentlemen thank you for everything you do.”
Some tears were apparent as others were obviously held back. A big shout-out went up for them both.
“He is hard working, dedicated and always willing to put others first before his own needs or wants,” Slusher said. “He is a great leader and a great Chief. I personally respect him and love him for the man that he is. I think he is a great Chief for the Department because he looks out for and takes care of all the needs of the members and the community in which we serve. I think his heart is in it, and he is dedicated as well as more than willing and yeah…I respect that!”
Heather added, “The members decided to do this as a ‘Thank you’ and to show appreciation for all Shawn has done to get the station back up and running the way it is and Jake as president has been a tremendous help.”
Both Shawn and Jake were somewhat speechless (which others said was unusual for both), but “so very grateful and truly honored.”