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Bremerton firefighter Golnik sets record for tenure

Capt. Paul Golnik celebrated his 38th year with the Bremerton Fire Department in June. Not only does he hold the record as the firefighter with the most seniority, Golnik also is currently the city of Bremerton’s employee with the most years. - Courtesy photo
Capt. Paul Golnik celebrated his 38th year with the Bremerton Fire Department in June. Not only does he hold the record as the firefighter with the most seniority, Golnik also is currently the city of Bremerton’s employee with the most years.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Capt. Golnik celebrates 38 years with Bremerton Fire Department.

On June 9, 1970, Paul Golnik walked into the Bremerton Fire Department’s headquarters ready for his first day on the job.

Firefighters were out front washing the fire engines and Golnik had a good feeling about this new career path.

“Within a few minutes I knew I was going to love this job,” he said. “I knew from the very beginning.”

Capt. Golnik celebrated his 38th year with Bremerton in June. The South Kitsap man now holds the record as being a firefighter longer than anyone in the Bremerton fire agency and is the city of Bremerton’s employee with the most seniority.

After leaving the Air Force and a position at Boeing as an electrician specialist, Golnik needed a job. He walked into Bremerton City Hall and applied to be a firefighter. He passed the firefighter test and accepted a position.

“I actually never gave (firefighting) a thought,” Golnik said. “I was just looking for a job and I went to the city just looking for work.”

He said things have changed a lot in his 38 years with the Bremerton Fire Department. He said the department only received about 500 calls a year when he first became a firefighter. Now, the city of Bremerton responds to thousands of calls each year.

Golnik said the training also has changed. Firefighters must be prepared to handle all kinds of emergencies, including medical issues and water rescues.

“We have to have a lot more certifications now, a lot more training,” he said. “We’re expected to handle a lot of different types of emergencies now.”

He said the equipment has “improved immensely” throughout the past 38 years. He drove a 1947 ladder truck when he first became a firefighter, but the department continuously upgrades its equipment and firefighters work heavily with computers nowadays, Golnik said.

“You have to be willing to change or you won’t survive,” he added. “If you’re not willing to change, you’ll get left behind pretty quickly.”

Golnik also has outlasted many of his chiefs at Bremerton Fire.

“I’m on my eighth fire chief,” he laughed.

Golnik recalls several memorable moments during his tenure thus far with the fire agency. He operated the ladder truck when Coontz Junior High School caught fire in December 1974.

“I was operating the ladder truck and part of the wall fell on the truck,” Golnik said. “We thought we lost some people, but we didn’t.”

Golnik located and carried an unconscious woman out of a smoke-filled building in the area of 5th Street and Park Avenue. Firefighters were able to revive the woman and saved her life.

“I like helping people, the number of different challenges you run up against,” Golnik said. “The citizens generally have an appreciation for the job.”

Golnik also enjoys the little things, such as giving schoolchildren tours of the fire station. He said the camaraderie between firefighters is another perk of the job.

“You spend a third of your life with your co-workers,” he said.

Golnik served as a South Kitsap Fire & Rescue (SKFR) volunteer firefighter for 13 years and is currently an elected fire commissioner for SKFR.

Golnik and his wife have been married 41 years and raised seven children together. When he’s not working, Golnik spends time hunting, fishing and riding ATVs with his wife.

As for retirement, Golnik, now in his 60s, said he could have retired 11 years ago, but chose not to. He hasn’t yet set a date, but Golnik predicts he’ll call it quits in the near future.

“Working here for 38 years, it’s gone by pretty fast,” he said. “It’s easy to come to a job that you love.”

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