Firefighter Paramedic Shawn Whilt

By Beverlye Fead   |   October 25, 2018

Thirty-six-year-old Shawn Whilt is the second of Montecito’s heroes that I am fortunate enough to interview. Shawn, a younger, handsome Tom Hanks-ish kind of guy with blue, blue eyes is a Santa Barbara Native. He was born here, went to Santa Barbara High, Santa Barbara City College, and then UCSB. 

He was active in sports growing up. He enjoyed hiking, mountain biking, and basketball. He played guard on the basketball court throughout high school. He continues his love of basketball today as the assistant coach for the Santa Barbara High School freshman boys’ team. No wonder he loves Santa Barbara – it is the perfect place for him. 

Shawn did not think about firefighting until after he graduated college. He started his career with the Vandenberg Hotshots, and then went on to work with AMR as a paramedic. He has now been with Montecito Fire Department as a firefighter/paramedic since 2015. For Shawn, Montecito Fire Department is a “great place to work.” He tells me “the area is beautiful, the community members are supportive and I have amazing co-workers.”

When the Thomas Fire started, Shawn was off duty but quickly called into work to cover Montecito while his co-workers were assigned to assist Ventura County Fire Department in Santa Paula. As the fire approached Carpinteria and Montecito, Shawn was assigned to a patrol unit designated to serve as a lookout to track fire progression. Once the fire hit Montecito, he was totally focused on protecting houses. Although a handful of homes were destroyed in the Thomas fire, Shawn credits Montecito Fire Departments Wildland specialists for the years of vegetation management preparation, for allowing him and the other thousands of firefighters to safely protect the district. 

With little time to rest, Shawn and his co-workers prepared and trained for possible mud and water emergencies directly related to the aftermath of the Thomas Fire. Their training would be put to use on the morning of January 9. He will never forget that morning. He was at Station 1, located on San Ysidro Road. Shawn tells me he remembers standing outside with the rain coming down, when suddenly he heard and saw a large gas line explode. He and his crew tried to get to the fire; however, San Ysidro Road was impassable as it was flooded with rushing water and debris. 

Within minutes, the water subsided enough for them to try to get to the fire. During that time, other firefighters in the district reported major damage in the area of Hot Springs and Olive Mill. Shawn and his crew made their way to the area, eventually having to go in on foot with medical supplies and tools to start rescuing the injured and trapped. Shawn specifically tells me of a rescue in which he and his crew assisted firefighter/paramedic Andy Rupp and captain Ben Hauser save a young girl who was trapped in a large debris pile full of rocks, trees, mud and was topped with a large pickup truck. She was able to walk away without any lasting injuries. 

Miracles do happen, especially with that quality of help. Shawn says that was a highlight for him. 

Just as we were ending our interview, another firefighter rushed in and said, “We have a vehicle accident!” and just like that, they jumped into their truck and sped away with sirens blaring. How comforting to know, Montecito’s finest have our backs. Thanks, Shawn!


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