Seven men and a woman, looking sharp in pressed, navy-blue pants and shirts with a small American flag on the right sleeve, formed a semi-circle on the raised platform at the Wellington Fire House on Jan. 7. In his white uniform, Fire Chief Gary Green stood out among them, casually visiting with the group, waiting for the badge ceremony to begin.
It didn’t take long. After Chief Green led the Pledge of Allegiance, he spoke briefly about the history of the Wellington Fire Department, started by a group of volunteers in 1905. It wasn’t until 46 years later that a Fire Protection District was formed that made possible the establishment of a fire station and the purchase of firefighting equipment.
Letitia Betchel, a volunteer firefighter since 1990, was hired as the first paid employee of the department in 1996. In 2012, she retired as a firefighter and now serves as administrator for the department. In 2013, Green was hired as first paid Fire Chief for the Wellington Fire Department.
The last name Betchel among the list of new firefighters is no coincidence. Letitia’s son, Kenneth Betchel Jr., along with Kelley Delaney and Michael Evans, was a fire cadet. Now the trio will serve together as full-time firefighters.
Green wanted the friends and families in the audience — and they were there in force — to know how important their help and support had been during the rigorous training required to become a firefighter.
As he called their names, Wellington’s first paid firefighters received a handshake from the chief and the coveted badge pinned to their chest by a family member.
The new firefighters have been training for a year and in another seven weeks will complete their final academy training, where they will earn certification as driver-operators of all the equipment owned by the fire department. All are state-certified firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Jeremy Shawley dreamed about becoming a firefighter from the time he was a child. After a stint in the Marine Corps, he was accepted for firefighter training. “It’s very competitive,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like about it.”
During the physically and mentally demanding training period, Shawley said he relied heavily on the support of his parents, Julie and Rusty Shawley, and his girl friend, Jenn Harris. When he’s not on the job, Shawley is happiest outdoors. Fishing is a special passion of his.
Kelley Delaney was born into the firefighting business. “It’s genetic,” said her mother, Jean, whose husband, Dean, began his firefighting career in Wellington and has been with the Poudre Fire Department for many years. When Dean pinned the badge on his daughter, he also presented her with a small cloverleaf crocheted by his grandmother that he has carried in his fire helmet for the last six years. Now it will take a place in Kelley’s helmet to bring her luck.
Kelley was 12 when she joined the fire cadet program and by the time she was 18 she was a volunteer in the Wellington Fire Department. She holds an associates degree in fire science and technology from Aims Community College and has two summers of experience fighting wildland fires alongside her dad.
When she’s not busy fighting fires, Kelley works out (Crossfit is her favorite), hikes and looks forward to sharing a glass of wine and hanging out with the girls.
Now 25, she’s excited to become a full-time paid firefighter. “I love it for so many reasons,” she said. “For the adrenalin rush, for the people I work with, for the fact that it is different every day.”
Following the pinning ceremony, families and friends of the newly certified firefighters gathered for cake and conversation.
“The volunteer firefighters have been doing a great job for many years,” Greene said. “But they are volunteers, and they have jobs, and until now we could not guarantee consistent coverage in our area which encompasses nearly 300-square miles.”
The town is growing and calls are becoming more frequent. Two of the paid firefighters will be on the job 24-hours a day, making it possible to provide consistent responses at all times. The department will no longer need to rely so frequently on assistance from area fire departments, though they will continue to depend on mutual aid for smaller calls.