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Draper Journal

Two public servants with the same last name retire after decades with the city

Feb 05, 2024 02:33PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Marsha Vawdrey began her service to the city by volunteering to help build Draper’s historic park which led to her and her husband coordinating Draper’s rodeo for several years. She went on to serve on the planning commission and the city council. She retired in December. She especially encourages women to take on volunteer and leadership roles in the community. (Courtesy Draper City)

Bart Vawdrey is a Draper native who’s been employed as a firefighter in his hometown for the majority of his 32-year career, beginning right out of high school. He’s gone on many wildfire deployments in various states and has also assisted after devastating hurricanes, including Katrina in 2005. Five years ago, he was hit by a car on the interstate while responding to an emergency. Bart is retiring in February. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

Two Vawdreys, with more than 50 years of service between them, are retiring from Draper City. Councilmember Marsha Vawdrey officially left office in December, and Deputy Fire Chief Bart Vawdrey will hang up his fire department hat in February.  

Marsha and Bart are related by marriage; her husband is his first cousin. The last name they share is not common; only 148 Vawdreys were found by the 2010 U.S. Census. But in Draper, what is common with their name is service to one’s community.

“All the years I’ve known you, you’ve been fantastic,” Mayor Troy Walker said to Marsha at her last council meeting. “You’re always prepared. You’ve given your heart and soul to the community, and tremendous time,” 

Chief Clint Smith had many positive things to say about Bart.

“Deputy Chief Vawdrey is the epitome of a public servant,” he said, “He has served the residents of Draper City and Salt Lake County for over 32 years beginning as a volunteer for Draper City, spending 22 years serving full time for Salt Lake County Fire and Unified Fire Authority before returning to Draper City Fire Department for the last seven years. Bart was integral in the formation of our department and the many successes we have had since. He has left his mark on the fire service and made it and us better through his selfless service.”

For Marsha, public service began when she was a young mother living in Draper. While out on a walk, she noticed a sign in a weedy field asking for volunteers to help build a historic park. 

“Darrell Smith was on the city council at that time, and that was the project Mayor Redd gave him,” Marsha said. “I knew Darrell, so I called and volunteered for the committee.” 

One thing led to another, and Marsha and her husband, Doug, were approached about volunteering in a different capacity. 

“We were asked to chair the rodeo in 2003 for the first time, and we did it for seven years,” she said. “It was a lot of work; we did it all. The city has become much more involved with helping since.”

Then came her time on the planning commission, something she feels was excellent preparation for city council. 

“It gives you so much knowledge about following the law and what you can and can’t do,” she said. “I think it’s the best thing for someone if they’re thinking of running.”

Marsha’s 10 years on city council began in an unusual way, and 10 is an “odd” number of years to serve on the council because it’s normally done in four-year increments. But in 2013, then-councilmember Walker was elected mayor, leaving a vacancy for the remaining two years of his term. The council took applications to fill that vacancy, but Marsha was hesitant to apply. 

“Most of the time, women have to be asked,” she said. “We don’t feel confident to step up. Someone has to tell us that we should do it.”

For Marsha, that someone was Mayor Darrell Smith. He was preparing to leave office, and he strongly encouraged Marsha to apply for the council vacancy. 

“I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I can do this,’” she said. Marsha was chosen from approximately 18 applicants after each did a presentation/job interview before the council. Marsha started in 2014 with that appointment and was reelected twice.

The hardest council meeting she experienced (not including the community meeting about a homeless shelter, which was not a council meeting) was when city officials decided to start Draper’s own fire department. 

“It was a long night, and a lot of people were telling us we shouldn’t do it,” Marsha said. “It was change, but I knew it was the right thing. I think the decision was a 4-1 vote, so the council wasn’t terribly divided, but that was a tough one. Looking back on that now, they’ve been wonderful to have in our own community.”

It’s that fire department, established in 2016, that has employed Bart, first as Battalion Chief and then Deputy Chief. He worked as a firefighter and EMT for 17 years prior, predominantly in Draper. (The city had its own fire department when Bart started in 1991. That dissolved in 1995, and firefighters worked under Salt Lake County/Unified Fire Authority until Draper established its own department again.)

Bart is a Draper native. 

“I love serving the community that I live in,” he said. 

He began as a part-time firefighter right out of high school and then went to EMT school. 

“I was running fire and ambulance for Draper,” he said. “The population was about 4,500. If we’d get a fire, everyone would respond from their homes to the fire station.”

In those days, the fire station was a barn-style building in the parking lot of the Old Park School. 

“When Draper decided to go full time in 1995, they gave us a small space inside the Park School, which was City Hall at the time,” Bart said. “We were on shift, 24 hours on, 24 off. We did three shifts on, then four days off.”

He began working full time for Draper in 1995. That same year, Draper’s department dissolved, so Bart worked with Salt Lake County/UFA until Draper leaders reestablished the city’s own department in 2016.

Bart’s job has taken him all over the county, the state, the country and even abroad. 

“I was given the opportunity to teach in Kyrgyzstan,” he said. 

He’s done more wildland fire deployments than he can count, including in neighboring states such as Nevada, Idaho, California and Oregon. 

His most memorable deployment was Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with Utah Task Force One based in Salt Lake County. 

“We work directly under the Department of Homeland Security,” he said. “When we deployed, we anticipated search and rescue. We were there about a week and then it turned into recovery, helping families recover loved ones. It was total devastation.” Bart also responded to the Hilldale Floods in his own state, another scene of devastation. 

Dec 27, 2018, is a day he’ll never forget. That’s the day he was hit by a car on the interstate. 

“It had been snowing, and it was commuting time,” he said. “We got a call for a traffic accident around 14600 South. When it’s snowy and cold there, it’s like a sheet of ice.” The apparatus the department uses to block an area for safety after an accident hadn’t yet arrived, and Bart was the first on the scene. 

“I was trying to communicate to move this accident off the freeway, and I looked up just in time to see a truck cut off a car,” he said. “That car started spinning, and it hit me going about 50 MPH. It launched me up and over another vehicle, and I landed in the HOV lane. There’s no shoulder there, just a wall, and traffic was still moving, including in that HOV lane. I tried to get up but the left side of my body didn’t work, so I crawled to my truck, got on the radio and called in my injuries. They put me on a helicopter and flew me to IMC.” He spent five days in the hospital and was off work for three months recovering. 

“We try to do everything right, but in a profession like this, you can’t predict everything,” he said. 

His dad was also a Salt Lake County fireman for 30 years. 

“This will be the first time in over 60 years that there hasn’t been a Vawdrey in the fire department between me and my dad,” he said. 

Bart shared these thoughts for anyone considering his profession. 

“If you’re lucky enough to get in the fire service, find yourself a mentor, be the best you can possibly be at the specialty you choose,” he said. “Have fun and stay healthy.” 

Marsha offered these words of wisdom to anyone considering public service. 

“To volunteer and help is a great place to start,” she said. “I think there’s a special place for women because we have a different perspective. I’ve seen that, and it really takes all of us. I love to see people that do it for the right reason, because you care about the community. Step up and make a difference.” λ