Central Pierce Fire & Rescue commissioners unanimously appointed Deputy Chief Tim Pierce as the department’s interim leader Monday night as the board begins its search for a new permanent chief.
Jack Andren, a 40-plus-year veteran who returned from retirement to lead the state’s fourth-largest fire department, retired again July 31 after serving as interim fire chief since September 2015.
Pierce’s temporary appointment is subject to a service agreement with the board. He will be sworn in during the commission’s Aug. 22 meeting.
“I’m glad that you’re willing to step up,” Commissioner Bill Eckroth said to Pierce, 53, before moving to appoint him.
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“Especially with 30 minutes’ notice,” added fellow Commissioner Lyle Nelson.
Board Chairman Bob Willis said Pierce’s fellow deputy chief, Baron Banks, would have been overwhelmed by assuming the duties of fire chief while also managing Central Pierce’s bond projects. Pierce is head of field operations.
“We’re going to let Chief Andren stay retired, and we’re going to start the search right away for a full-time chief,” Willis said during the meeting at the department’s South Hill station.
Commissioners had asked lawyer Joseph Quinn if it was legal for Andren to come back to work for the department as a part-time chief without affecting his pension. Quinn wrote the board a memo Wednesday suggesting the only way to do that would be to hire him as an independent contractor doing part-time work in an advisory capacity.
Willis said no one from the board had talked with Andren about working in such a capacity.
Willis and Commissioner Steve Stringfellow both expressed reservations about the possibility of bringing Andren back as a contractor.
“I’m a little bit worried about the perception,” Stringfellow said. “Jack’s a great guy, a great leader, a great friend, but I think we just need to cut our ties.”
Andren retired in May 2010 after 42 years of fire service. A year later, state auditors found that the board had inappropriately increased his pay before he retired and violated state law by making a decision behind closed doors. Andren said last year that he paid back the difference.
Willis said after Monday’s meeting that the amount of work required from the fire chief simply can’t be done on a part-time schedule.
“Certainly nothing against Chief Andren, but we felt we needed to approach this from a different perspective,” Willis said.
Pierce County Professional Firefighters Local 726 took a vote of no confidence against Pierce last year before Andren’s arrival, chapter President Russ Karns said Tuesday.
Karns declined to explain why the union took the vote against Pierce. But he added the chapter’s executive board voted unanimously to support Pierce’s appointment as interim chief.
“He has actually garnered support from the time that took place, and with the return of Chief Andren and his leadership style, he has made Tim a very respected person in the organization,” Karns said. “Quite honestly, the guy has done what he was supposed to do to fix it and is actually a valued member of the organization.”
During the summer of 2015, Pierce submitted a request to step down to an assistant chief position, department spokesman Guy Overby said Tuesday. Overby says the deputy chief contract allows for that transition.
Assistant chiefs have union representation, but deputy chiefs are at-will positions.
“At the time, I felt it was best for my family and myself,” Pierce said Tuesday.
Pierce, who has worked for the district since May 1987, said he rescinded the request because there were no vacant assistant chief positions to step down into.
The board’s tentative plan to find a permanent fire chief includes an eight-person search committee: two board members, two executive-level staff and two union representatives, as well as human resources director Candis Martinson and Overby. Martinson and Overby would serve only as advisory members.
The current minimum qualifications for the position include a bachelor’s degree in a related field and seven to 10 years of management experience, including three at an executive level, Martinson said. The plan, subject to board and union agreement, would leave the job open until filled, with the first round of applications reviewed six weeks after posting.