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Who’s behind the tools at HURST Jaws of Life? It’s people like Manager of Operations Nicki Vaca, who started with HURST 18 years ago – a good two decades after she visited the Shelby, N.C. plant for the first time. That first visit? She was a kid stopping in to see her dad at work.

HURST got its start in Pennsylvania before making the Carolinas its headquarters in the early ‘80s. Prior to that, the Shelby plant housed a machine company that made component parts for fire equipment. Nicki’s dad was a machinist for the company, and he loved to show off his work to his children. That Nicki’s dad made parts to power firetrucks and she makes rescue tools to empower firefighters is serendipity. That their work happens in the same plant? She said it makes work feel like coming home.

“When I went to HURST for my job interview, it was so familiar because I had visited my dad there; that machine shop smell brought back great memories,” she said. “He’d take my brother and me by the hand and show us around, saying, ‘Look at this machine!’ He was so proud of what he did, and so proud when I came to work here.

“For me, it was interesting to see how much had changed at the plant since I had been here as a kid,” she said

Much of that change is a credit to Nicki. She loves technology -– whether it’s a new phone for herself or a piece of high-tech equipment for the plant –- is driven to success and has learned HURST Jaws of Life inside and out over the past two decades.

She began at HURST as a production planner and inventory coordinator, serving in that role for seven years before moving into the company’s newly formed customer service department. That experience gave her new insight into the end user; combining that knowledge with her plant experience, Nicki moved into the role of manager of operational excellence. A few years later she was named manager of operations, a position she’s held for six years.

Nicki’s vision is simple: “We want to get things in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible, so we can continue to save lives,” she said. “The better the machines we’re using to make the tools, the more efficient we’ll be -- and the easier it is for our employees, too.”

A Shelby native with her youngest of two sons now off to college, Nicki and her husband of 27 years are having fun finding new adventures to fill their free time. They travel a lot, including hiking The Carolina Thread Trail. But Nicki says it’s always nice to come home.

“I love what I do. And I know that what I do affects all the people in the plant, which affects all  our distributors and their customers -– and it all trickles down,” she said. “So many people depend on us. And the machinery, technology, processes, quality and passionate people who work here ensure we won’t let them down.”