Three candidates in the running for Orcas Fire Chief

Three candidates for the position of Orcas Fire and Rescue’s new chief met with the Board of Fire Commissioners and members of the public during a meet-and-greet on Nov. 18.

“The next steps taken will be determined by what happens tonight,” said Commissioner Barbara

Bedell. “It will be in the hands of the commission.”

The final three candidates for the position are Acting Chief Scott Williams and off-island applicants Jason Napier and Marty Fowler. The chief will be chose at the next Board of Fire Commissioners meeting at the fire hall on Dec.19 at 5:30 p.m.

Bedell explained that a chief search committee was created to review the candidates and give suggestions to the board on whom to hire. The committee was comprised of Bedell, who served as chairwoman, Paul Kamin, Clyde Duke, Chad Kimple, Bryon Freneya, Pierrette Guimond, Pam Harney and Geoff Nelson. When the application period ended on Oct. 14, the committee, which had formed in July, reviewed the qualifications, conducted interviews and narrowed the list down to three.

The candidates were given 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the audience, who then were allowed to ask questions.

Fowler has spent 28 years of his career in the fire service, starting as a volunteer and working into the position of assistant chief on Vashon Island. He said that after an earthquake hit the island, he created an emergency response team. When he left Vashon, he was asked by the Washington State Fire Marshal to create the job of Chief of Instruction at the Washington State Fire Academy. He spent four years there.

“‘It’s time for you to get back and do what you do,’” Fowler said that people had been telling him. Fowler returned to the fire service, spending four years with the City of Snohomish where he created a training program and acting as its program director. Three years ago, he returned to college to receive a master’s from Harvard University.

A concern of an audience member was whether Fowler had experience writing grants. He said that while working at Vashon he wrote a grant for a $450,000 apparatus, which they received. He also has worked with the SAFER grant, allowing them to hire an additional six firefighters, and he is an evaluator for FEMA grants.

During his introduction, Fowler said he is close to his parents and his father’s health is fragile, which was another point of worry for the audience members. He was asked what his longevity with the department would be since his parents will remain where they are now.

“I wouldn’t be here if I was not comfortable,” said Fowler. “We’ve had this conversation. He’s probably my biggest fan.”

Another person questioned how his experience would relate to working with volunteers. Having begun his career as a volunteer, Fowler said he would never forget it, and he has a successful history of recruiting volunteers and rebuilding programs that were in disrepair. Fowler also owns and operates a fire service education company, which he says would not interfere with fire chief duties as it, “takes care of itself.”

Williams, who has been with OIFR for three years, volunteered to fill the vacant seat when the last fire chief left.

“My desire for the department is … for it to be good at what it does,” said Williams. During his time as acting chief, he has identified areas of need in the department and has worked to stabilize it. “I’m also willing to pass all this info to one of [the candidates] for consistency.”

Prior to moving to Orcas, Williams worked as a firefighter/EMT in Montana and Florida.

“My kayaking led me here,” said Williams, who saw the San Juan Islands seemed like a good place to retire. “I enjoy that small community feel.”

The same community member who questioned Fowler’s experience with writing grants asked about Williams’ experience. He said he wrote a small grant in Montana, but other than that he hasn’t done many. Williams was also asked how he has adapted to a program that has no mutual aid from nearby departments.

“It’s a testimony to this fire department and the volunteers and staff that make up this department,” said Williams. “We concentrate a lot more on doing a good job and being steady.” Williams said he understands that the department has to work on networking. He explained that he is on the Orcas Medical Foundation board and believes that the fire chief has a key role in healthcare on the island.

Napier and his wife Marcy live in Bellingham and have two children, Andrew who is 18 and Kathryn Rose, who is 16. When Napier was 18, he began volunteering as a firefighter/EMT with the Kent Fire Department and worked is way up to station lieutenant.

“The experience I had there was plentiful,” said Napier. “I had a lot of repetition to build my skills.”

He has experience with hazardous material and search and rescue teams, including the National Urban Search and Rescue out of Seattle. He also was a structural collapse technician, teaching at Pierce County for more than three years. Napier taught Community Emergency Resource Team training in Kent, where he worked as Deputy Fire Marshal.

“This allowed me all kinds of new knowledge, skills and abilities,” said Napier, who became division chief in Bellingham in 2008.

Napier helped develop national fire codes during his time as Director of the Washington State Association of Fire Marshals, and earlier this year he accepted the position of Skagit’s interim fire marshal. He recently completed one year at the national fire academy’s executive program.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of local experience that can be tapped,” said Napier about the Orcas Island community. “The community will receive not just a fire chief but a contributing member through involvement.”

Other news

During the board’s Nov. 21 meeting, the board signed a resolution to place the expansion of the board from three to five members on the special election ballot in February.