Shane Wooton was bitten by the bug at Linn-Benton Community College.
The new Albany Fire Department chief didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do after high school and found himself taking an EMT class at LBCC — and enjoying it.
“It introduced me to helping people who were sick and injured and needed help,” he said.
After speaking with an uncle who worked as a firefighter in Lebanon and touring the station himself, Wooton was hooked.
And while he had found his calling and worked at the Lebanon fire station for two years, he said he never set out to be Albany’s fire chief.
“I said yes because, I might be biased, but this is an awesome Fire Department,” he said. “We have amazing people full of character and professionalism. Being given the opportunity to lead this department was an honor.”
That honor came 27 years to the date Wooton was first hired in Albany.
“I didn’t realize it!” he said. “I was hired on Oct. 1, 1992, and didn’t realize it until later but, yes, Oct. 1, 2019 was when I was officially promoted to fire chief.”
The transition, he said, was organic.
Former chief John Bradner said when he was considering retirement, two things came to mind: he'd hit 30 years of service and wanted to see his assistant chief promoted to fire chief.
“There was no ‘Here’s the plan,’” Wooton said. “The decision was made by City Manager Peter Troedsson.”
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And despite having served in the department for 27 years and as assistant chief for 11, Wooton said he was still nervous going into the interviews.
“No one likes interviews,” he said.
A month later, he sits in Bradner’s office, just down the hall from the one he used to occupy. His day looks a little different now.
“As assistant chief, the job was more the day-to-day operation, making sure people’s needs were met,” he said. “Now, it’s a little more long-term thinking and planning.”
Part of the planning has been to reorganize the department. Wooton recently went before the City Council to approve a plan to create two deputy chief positions. His former position of assistant fire chief would transition into a deputy, as would a division chief position.
It’s the most visible change under his leadership, but more may be in the cards as the department weathers what Wooton describes as one of his new job's biggest concerns: "the budget process.”
The Albany Fire Department was just one of several city departments to see frozen positions or all-out cuts to services and resources during the last budget cycle. The City Council adopted a balanced budget, but conservative estimates place the deficit the city will face during the next two-year budget cycle at $11 million.
“We’re going to see what our department looks like with potentially diminishing funds,” he said. “It’s something we’ll be working on every day.”
As for what he looks forward to, Wooton said it comes down to the community where he and his wife of 25 years, Paige, have raised their three children.
“I’m excited to be able to tell people what we do and be an ambassador of our department.”