That is, a new interim chief.
Mark Risen, 54, is on loan from the Bellevue Fire Department for six months and is keeping his steady hand on the steering wheel until the Woodinville fire commissioners can come up with a permanent chief.
The commission, in fact, is holding its annual retreat this weekend and one of its study items is to talk about the process of filling that position, vacant since I. David Daniels stepped down in August of 2011 amidst a blaze of controversy.
Mark Chubb was then chosen as the interim chief, but the deputy chief told the board he was not interested in the job permanently and went back to his original assignment when Risen came aboard about a month ago.
So Risen was asked if the commissioners came back and offered him the permanent gig, would he take it?
“No,” he said flatly. “I would be going back on my word, and I typically try not to do that. Two, there’s going to be some very tough decisions we’re going to have to make and I think it’s very important that people know I made those decisions for the good of the district and not to further some career interest I had.”
That’s where WF&R Community Services Officer David Weed interjected some clarification:
“That was the will of the commissioners, to find someone who has no horse in the race, no ulterior motive, no agenda. Just come in, fix things up and move on after six months.”
When Risen heads back to Bellevue he’ll continue as one of two of the department’s deputy chiefs, a post he gained two years ago, he said.
He’s a 30-year man at BFD, having been hired on in 1983 before working his way up the ladder: lieutenant, captain, battalion chief.
The Everett native was asked when he became aware Woodinville was looking for a new interim chief.
“I was sitting in my office before the holidays and Chief (Michael) Eisner said Woodinville called, and would you be interested in doing this and I said ‘Sure.’ Since I had a little more experience than the other deputy chief he offered it to me first and I thought it would be a good growth experience for me.
“I’ll go back to Bellevue smarter than I left.”
Was he aware of the tumultuous recent history at WF&R — two chiefs basically hired and fired within five years, leaving the ever-changing board up to its boots in litigation?
“Yes. But I wasn’t here for any of that and there’s always two sides to every story,” he said.
“What I’ve told the organization is I love history but I don’t like living there. At some point we need to quit looking at the rearview mirror and start looking out the windshield … You can dwell on the past all you want but at some point you need to just say that happened and for whatever reasons it didn’t work out well … but it’s time to learn from it and let’s move on.”
And what has he learned in his five weeks in the big chair that maybe he didn’t know before?
“I knew a little bit about Woodinville but even though we’re in the same county it seems there’s a million miles in distance some days between here and Bellevue,” he said with a laugh.
“Probably the one thing I’ve learned is that firefighters are firefighters. I’ve been out to every fire station and met every crew and listened to what they had to say. We’ve had some wonderful conversations and I think the really good thing is that the firefighters in the district can say throughout all that tumultuous stuff that happened, they still delivered service. People called 911, they still showed up and provided excellent service. And they can be proud of that and never lose sight of that.”
He said he’s also been busy implementing district cost-cutting measures as well as “cementing our relationships” with other fire districts — Bothell, Kirkland, Northshore — as more and more fire commissions, including Woodinville’s, are considering regionalization options.
Was it an ambition of his to one day become a chief?
“That’s part of the reason I took this job, to figure that out. I didn’t have the answer to that question and I still don’t. But I think the world of Bellevue Fire, been a 30-year employee there and have enjoyed every minute of it. I’m very happy being a deputy chief there. Whether or not I become a fire chief somewhere out there, I don’t know. I guess time will tell …”