Don Tomaso and Michael McCoy began their careers as firefighters while students at Foster High School, across the street from Fire Station 54, which was then staffed by volunteers.
When the fire siren rang atop Showalter and at the fire station in the 1970s and early 1980s, students who had signed up as volunteers would run across South 144th Street to the station and wait for an adult to arrive to drive the fire engine to the fire or other emergency.
“They didn’t have volunteers during the day, so they didn’t have a choice,” said Tomaso of using students 16 or older to fight fires and provide advanced first aid, for which the student volunteers were provided training.
After graduating from Foster – Tomaso in 1978, and McCoy in 1982 – the two rose through the ranks in the Tukwila Fire Department. On Wednesday, Oct. 7, McCoy and Tomaso, frontline firefighters for decades, will be inducted into the Foster High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
McCoy will not be there; he died unexpectedly in April at a National Disaster Medical System class in Alabama. His twin brother Patrick, also a fire department captain and a fire volunteer while at Foster, will accept the honor for him.
Tomaso was part of the team from Tukwila that brought Mike McCoy home.
“Here you have a local kid from Tukwila who had a significant impact on the country when it comes to disasters,” said Tomaso.
This is the first time two alumni have been inducted at the same time into the Hall of Fame, which began honoring graduates in 2008 to recognize their outstanding contributions to their community or the world.
Tomaso says he suggested that the honor just go to McCoy but the nominator said McCoy would have suggested that only Tomaso receive the honor.
“Both Mike and me are low-key. I don’t like high-profile things. I just like to get the job done,” said Tomaso, who began his paid firefighting career in White Center in 1982. He joined the Tukwila Fire Department in 1989.
Tomaso, who holds the rank of battalion chief, has been Tukwila’s fire marshal for about 13 years, which means he investigates and determines the cause of a fire.
He’s a nationally recognized expert in fire investigations and is president of the Northwest Fire Investigators. A top priority is educating the public about fire safety and prevention; the fire department is an active participant in National Night Out.
Tomaso is a member of the City of Tukwila’s Strategic Planning Committee and is a youth sports coach.
Tukwila has fires, of course, but they are usually small ones, he said, in part because with four fire stations, firefighters arrive “fairly quickly.”
“Even going back before my time, Tukwila has always been about fire prevention,” he said.
Tomaso has investigated large fires throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, including a Street of Dreams fire that burned four homes in Snohomish County, as part of an agreement in which fire agencies share their fire investigators.
McCoy was hired in 1986 as a paid firefighter for King County Fire District 1. He joined the Tukwila Fire Department in 1987 when the fire district was annexed into Tukwila.
He was a long-time senior member of the National Disaster Medical Systems field leadership team, and his service took him to national and international disasters such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, Super Storm Sandy, the Haiti earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina, where he was responsible for the largest patient evacuation in U.S. history.
He was the lead adviser for the Tukwila Fire Explorer Post of the Zone 3 Fire Explorers, a Boys Scouts of America branch for young people interested in a career in public safety.
The Foster Alumni Hall of Fame induction is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, in the main lobby at Foster High School, 4242 S. 144th St., Tukwila.