East Pierce Fire & Rescue will have a new leader this spring.
Chief Jerry Thorson announced his retirement following the fire commissioners’ special meeting Wednesday. His last day is scheduled for April 30.
Thorson has worked as chief since 2009, overseeing the district as its service area has nearly doubled to 83,000 residents. He was hired from Federal Way to replace former Chief Dan Packer, who died battling a California wildfire in July 2008.
Thorson, 56, said he had considered ending his 41-year career for several months, and said now is the right time to step aside and give new leadership a chance to tackle challenges facing the district.
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“I’m honored to have served the public for so many years,” he told The News Tribune. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of being a firefighter.”
Fire commissioners will immediately begin looking for a replacement. Thorson said he plans to stick around until a new chief is hired.
The district provides protection to a broad area in and around Bonney Lake, Sumner, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Edgewood and Milton. Thorson has seen the coverage area grow significantly; Edgewood and Milton both merged with East Pierce during his time as chief.
He also navigated through financial challenges, including two maintenance and operation levy measures that were rejected by voters last year. Failure to renew the levy, which represented more than 15 percent of the district’s operating budget, resulted in deep cuts to fire and emergency services in November.
Thorson’s announcement comes a month after the district narrowly avoided layoffs of four career firefighters. Just before the holidays, six layoff notices were issued to temporary and career firefighters.
Despite an eventual labor agreement, a secretary was still laid off and another staff member was reduced to part time.
Thorson said the district’s financial struggles weren’t his primary reasons for retiring.
“It was a factor, but it wasn’t a significant factor,” he said. “This more about moving on and enjoying some other things in life.”
Dale Mitchell, chair of the board of fire commissioners, said the board “reluctantly accepted” Thorson’s resignation.
“He has provided good leadership and has been a pleasure to work with,” Mitchell said in a news release.
Thorson started his career as a volunteer firefighter in South King County. The Federal Way native previously served as deputy chief for South King Fire & Rescue. His other roles there included battalion chief and fire marshal.
Moving forward, he plans to spend more time on his motorcycle and hobbies such as woodworking. He’s considering looking into city or county emergency management.
“I want to enjoy all kinds of things that I can do while I’m still young,” he said.