For 41 years, East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Jerry Thorson’s job in fire service has always come first.
Come July 1, the Bonney Lake resident will retire and bid his career as a firefighter farewell.
When Thorson became fire chief in 2009, his department was still grieving the tragic and unexpected loss of Dan Packer, the department’s beloved chief that died while fighting a wildfire in 2008.
“Jerry was really willing to come in, step up, and move forward during a difficult time for our department,” said Assistant Chief Russ McCallion. “He had the determination to take that on.”
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From there, Thorson’s determination to see his department through challenging times didn’t stop. Shortly after he was hired, the economy tanked and the department’s revenue took a nose dive.
“For the last six years, I’ve been trying to cut the budget and still maintain services,” Thorson said. “It has been very difficult. Especially when the levy failed at the elections last year. That was pretty tough. The organization isn’t out of the woods yet. It’s going to face a couple more years of budgetary challenges.”
In addition, the 57-year-old Thorson also oversaw the department's consolidation of the communities of Edgewood and Milton into the East Pierce coverage area.
“Kudos to Chief Thorson for the successful consolidation of Milton and Edgewood,” McCallion said. “Now we provide fire service to 90,000 residents in 50 square miles.”
Not only does Thorson oversee fire service to 90,000 residents, he also keeps a watchful eye on 150 firefighters and support staff.
“He’s really been a genial boss,” McCallion added. “He cares about his colleagues and firefighters. He quickly became a part of the community. He’s taken the department through some challenging times, and maintained a positive attitude.”
After 41 years in the industry, Thorson is ready to move on and try something different. He will also celebrate the birth of his first grandchild this summer.
“I don’t know how many events I missed when my kids were growing up because I was at work or even now going to council meetings in the evenings,” he said. “I missed out on some of those important family events. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family.”
While retirement will mean more time with his family, Thorson says he will certainly miss the family he has worked with for the last six years at East Pierce.
“I’ll miss the people in the fire service; I have friends all over the state. But more importantly, I really enjoy working with the people here at East Pierce,” Thorson said. “It’s like a family — everybody is working hard to provide a good service. I’ll miss the camaraderie.”
While Thorson does agree with McCallion that his biggest accomplishment was incorporating Edgewood and Milton into the East Pierce district, that is just one item on his long list of accomplishments.
“We dramatically improved our CPR rate,” he said. “More recently, the insurance rating for the fire service improved in about every one of our communities, so that lowered our fire insurance rate. I’m very proud of the organization for accomplishing those (things).”
One of Thorson’s favorite things about his position as fire chief is how varied the landscape is in the coverage area.
“One day you could respond to an incident in Sumner in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse,” he said. “The next minute, you’re 13 miles up responding to a construction accident at a logging site. I really enjoy the diversity and the challenges we face, and the way our firefighters and personnel step up no matter where it is or what it is.”
Thorson will also miss the positive impact he can make on the community on a daily basis.
“I just love the fire service, I love serving the public, love the emergency end of it,” Thorson said. “It’s one of those few things that you can show up on somebody’s doorstep and make a positive impact as a complete stranger. There’s that trust and belief that you are there to help, and I just love that feeling. I’m going to really miss that.”