At one point in his life, Jay Delaney was working on his college degree, embarking on a career with the Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department and starting a family with his wife, Valerie.
It was a busy time in Delaney’s life, and more than 30 years later things haven’t slowed down too much.
Today, Delaney is the chief of the Wilkes-Barre City Fire/EMS Department — a post he’s held since 2009 and once prior from 2000-2004. In addition, Delaney, 60, is the city’s emergency management coordinator and the workload of the two positions is more demanding than when Delaney began his career 37 years ago.
And that’s the way he likes it.
“When I first started in the fire department, there was one job — putting out fires. Today, it’s all hazards. A fire department is delivering babies, conducting water rescues, dealing with hazardous materials among other responsibilities. It’s changed. It’s no longer a single discipline.”
Still, it was a single factor that compelled Delaney to pursue such a career in 1976, when he joined the Hughestown Hose Company while a junior in high school. His father, also named Jay, was involved with community service for much of his life and it was a path Delaney wanted to follow.
When Delaney joined the Pittston Fire Department while attending college at Wilkes University, he knew he found the perfect career path that also allowed him to be involved with the community.
“The work we do every day knowing we’re making a difference and saving lives is what drives me,” Delaney said.
In the early 1980s, Delaney took another step in his career when he moved to Wilkes-Barre to take the fire department civil service test and was subsequently hired as an EMT. He became a full-time fire fighter with the city in 1993, and worked his way up to captain and battalion chief before being named department chief for the first time in 2000.
As Delaney’s career evolved, the duties of a fire department changed just as quickly. The terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 hastened that process.
“That was a game-changer for fire departments, which are now the first line of defense when something happens. Emergency services are first on the scene whether it’s a man-made or natural event,” Delaney said.
That change is reflected in the number of calls the fire department responds to each year. In the early 1980s, Delaney said, the department would respond to approximately 3,000 emergency transports annually. Today, that figure is close to 8,000 transports and 11,000 calls to the department. Of those calls, Delaney said, just 3.64 percent are for fires and the majority are for emergency medical service.
“Yes, water still puts out fires but there’s been a lot of dramatic changes in this business,” he said. “When I started, we didn’t have defibrillators or naloxone on the truck.”
But there’s one element of the job has hasn’t changed over the years, and perhaps it’s the most important.
“The people you are dealing with in most cases are devastated and don’t know what to do, but we’re here to help them,” Delaney said. “Every time I make a decision, I think if it’s my mother and father how you would want them to be treated. That’s the approach I take whenever I’m out in public or on an emergency.”
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Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky