For more than 45 years, Don Waller devoted his life to firefighting in the Methow Valley, starting as a volunteer in high school and working to create a fire district of four station with career firefighters that he led for many years. After a nine-month battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Don died at his home in Winthrop, where he lived for most of his career, just a block from the fire station.
“Don lived and breathed firefighter,” said Darold Brandenburg, who serves as a commissioner for the district and previously served as a volunteer firefighter. “He gave his entire life to it, not just the death, but the whole thing. I knew Don my entire life. I fought fires with him for 26 years. Don made more sacrifices than just about anyone I know in this town.”
Don started his fire service career as a volunteer at the Winthrop station in 1972, when he was 17 and still in high school. At the time, fire protection was provided by four stations that operated independently of each other. Don became the assistant chief in Winthrop in 1976, the chief in 1981. He was a driving force to unite the four independent stations within the district into one entity, and he became the first full-time career employee of the district when he was hired as the fire chief in 2002. He later added an additional three paid staff, created a single operating fire department with four stations, and led the merger of the Winthrop Fire Department into Fire District 6, breaking more barriers down.
His son states, “From my earliest memories, the air raid siren would go off, and my dad would go running out of the house, and through the neighbor’s, to the fire station a block away, jumping over the fence, until we removed it.” As a longtime fire service veteran, past volunteer with Winthrop, and current fire chief, his son has a unique perspective when he says, “I am in awe looking back to see how much my father worked to create and cultivate a high school program, where kids as young as 16 were allowed to be full-fledged firefighters. It was a unique point in time, which has changed, but had a huge impact in the fire service all over Washington.”