Catherine Cotton, a longtime volunteer EMT with the Snoqualmie Fire Department, will be recognized later this year with the 2023 Lifetime Achievement award from the Washington Firefighters Association.
“I can’t think of anybody more who deserves this,” Snoqualmie Chief Mark Correira said during a speech at the May 8 council meeting. “[Cotton’s] commitment to the community and to the department on so many different levels is just remarkable.”
Correira said when the state Firefighters Association originally asked for nominations for this year’s award, Robert Angrisano, another fire department volunteer, originally submitted Cotton’s name for the Volunteer of the Year award.
“When we submitted her nomination, the committee called us back and asked if we would change it,” Correira said. “[They] asked us to change it to the lifetime achievement award.”
Correira announced Cotton had received the award, to her surprise, during the city council meeting on May 8. Cotton will receive the award in Wenatchee later this month, he said.
“I’m humbled and very touched. This was quite a surprise. I don’t know how you all pulled it off,” Cotton said after the announcement. “All I can say is it’s been my honor and privilege to serve Snoqualmie Fire Department and serve my community, and hope I’ve given back a little bit for what I get in return.”
Cotton also received the Bud King Award, a Snoqualmie Fire Department award named after a retired volunteer, given to a department member who provided extraordinary service.
Cotton joined the Snoqualmie fire department as a volunteer EMT in January 2002 and has remained active over the last two decades.
In addition to leading EMT training, Cotton had run the department’s annual pancake breakfast fundraiser, sat on the Railroad Days Festival Committee and led food and donation drives to benefit local families. Cotton is also a member of the city’s Arts Commission.
In an interview, Cotton said receiving that recognition at the council meeting came as a shock, noting that she is usually the one involved in such events. She also praised her colleagues.
“It’s such an honor working with these men and women,” she said. “Everybody else puts in just as much as I do — I’ve maybe just done it a bit longer.”
Cotton has over 45 years experience working in emergency services as a paramedic in Washington, Colorado and Hawaii. She started as an EMT at 17, after graduating from the Maui EMT Training Center. Her first job was at a 911 paramedic unit in Maui.
After 20 years in Hawaii, Cotton moved to Colorado, working as an EMT while getting her doctorate in veterinary medicine at Colorado State University. Today, she works as a vet at Alpine Animal Hospital in Issaquah.
She moved to downtown Snoqualmie in the early 2000s. Living across the street from the old fire station, her dalmatian puppy caught the eye of a few of the firefighters, who stopped to chat with her.
“We got to chatting and they found out I was a firefighter medic and said ‘we have this volunteer program,” she recalled. “That was back in 2002 and the rest is kind of history.”
At the time, she was one of the few women working at the station and recalled having to “blend in with the guys.” But Cotton, a self-described practical joker, wasn’t afraid to make her presence known.
“Someone was making a fuss, saying something about ‘well put on your big girl panties and just do it,’” she said. “So I went out and bought a pair of big girl panties and decorated them and put them on the individual’s locker.”
Despite being “temporarily off the rig,” for the time being, Cotton still finds plenty to do at the station. She plans to continue working for the department for some time, she said, driven by the outpouring of support the fire department receives and her love for the community.
“It’s very rewarding and I hope to keep doing it for a while longer,” she said. “I wanna keep giving to this community. I love it here.”
Other Snoqualmie Fire Department Awards:
Fire Chief’s Medal & Top Responder: Robert Angrisano
Angrisano responded to more than 60 incidents in 2022. He was also responsible for leading the fire department’s COVID -19 vaccine clinic, which administered over 10,000 vaccines.
“We’ll never know the impact his work has had on this community and “the thousands of lives he may have saved,” Fire Chief Mark Correira said.
Volunteer Responder of the Year: John Solms.