Volunteer firefighter Walter “Wally” Eaton Jr.’s career began in 1980 when, at 20-years-old, he joined the East Brunswick Fire Department. After more than 30 years of service between East Brunswick and Brick, NJ, including three terms as department chief, Eaton was honored by the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, January 21, as the team’s Hero of the Game.
A couple years out of high school, Eaton said he was at a time in his life where he lacked direction. “They were looking for firefighters and I said ‘I’ll give this a try,’” Eaton explained. “It just happened…it really changed the direction of my life.” Eaton said at the time he was a young kid, partying and without structure in his life. After joining the fire company he found rules, regulations and structure he was looking for.
Serving his community comes naturally to Eaton. His father, Walter Sr., was a first aid volunteer. Eaton even met his wife, who is also a first aid volunteer, through his firefighter role. As a fire officer in 1989, Eaton first asked his future wife out on a date when she came to the fire department to borrow some equipment.
Once he was a firefighter, Eaton said his goal was consistently to do more. “I took all the training that I could get,” Eaton said. After nearly a decade with the East Brunswick Fire Department, Eaton moved to Brick, and after a few years joined the Brick Fire Department’s Pioneer Hose Fire Company in 1992. Six months into his time at Pioneer Hose, Eaton was a truck officer.
As time went on, Eaton rose through the ranks and served as chief on three separate occasions from 1996-97, 2006 and in 2012. “As you go forward, it’s just more time and more schooling than the average firefighter,” Eaton said.
As chief in 2012, Eaton was responsible for his district’s response to Hurricane Sandy. “I think we had as many fire and rescue calls in three days as we usually had in a year and a half.” Eaton said at one point he ran rescue operations from his front yard. “My house is not on the water, but I had waterfront property that day.”
When he’s not volunteering his time with the fire department, Eaton works as an electrician for Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc, at the firm’s plant in Spotswood. Eaton started off working machines in 1985, and, between role changes and apprenticeships, rose to his current role. “I was always just trying to further my knowledge and career, building my skills.”
A fan since the moment the Devils came to New Jersey in 1982, Eaton said Cory Schneider is his favorite member of the current team, and that Scott Stevens is secure as his all-time favorite player. “I just liked the way he played. He was a no nonsense kind of guy.” Having followed the team since the start, Eaton said his favorite moment was watching the Devils win their first Stanley Cup in 1995, all the more special following the disappointing end to the Devils’ 1994 playoff run.
Eaton describes himself as a humble person, never expecting to be honored for his service. “It’s a nice feeling. If I was ever going to get honored, it’s great to be doing it at Prudential Center,” Eaton said.