Growing up in a small town north of Hartford, Conn., David Wilmot literally heard the call beckoning him to become a firefighter. It was the sound of sirens ringing out whenever the town’s volunteer fire department was called into service.
He joined the volunteer fire department when he was 17 years old, later getting his formal training through the Department of Defense’s Fire Academy while a member of the Air National Guard.
After a brief stint at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota as a temporary employee, Wilmot heard from a friend in Kodiak Island, off the southern coast of Alaska, that the U.S. Coast Guard was looking for firefighters there. He jumped at the chance to join a department on a full-time basis, where he has worked for the past 13 years and currently serves as a lieutenant emergency medical technician (EMT-3).
“It’s just something I’ve always loved,” he said.
But fighting fires and tending to medical emergencies isn’t the only thing that drives the 40-year-old. He’s also a passionate union activist who has fought to improve working conditions for his fellow employees, as well as members of the greater community.
For his dedication to the job and his service to the labor movement, Wilmot has been named this year’s recipient of AFGE’s Firefighter of the Year award.
“David Wilmot goes above and beyond for our department, our community, and our union,” said AFGE Local 1115 member and former chief steward Wayne Aboussleman, who nominated Wilmot.
Just before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation last year, Wilmot spent his off-hours supporting private-sector health care workers at the local hospital who were going through tense contract negotiations over their pay, benefits, and leave.
Wilmot currently serves as treasurer and acting executive vice president of Local 1115, which represents civilian Coast Guard employees across Alaska. He has helped negotiate supplemental agreements to the local’s contract, developed standard operating procedures for the department, and organized a new unit of non-appropriated-fund employees.
A turning point for the local was when they successfully defended a member against excessive disciplinary actions being proposed by management. “There was almost an adversarial relationship with the fire chief and managers” that broke down after the local won at arbitration, Wilmot said.
Now with the Biden administration prepared to enforce more labor-friendly policies, Wilmot said he’s eager to negotiate with management over permissive subjects, also known as B(1) bargaining.
“This is your real chance to have a say in how your job functions. There’s really no other way, without a statute behind it, to force your managers to listen to you,” he said. “When you develop strong, healthy, effective relationships, you can make amazing change.”