Central Pierce Fire & Rescue again without a leader as interim chief resigns

A former chief who took the helm of Central Pierce Fire & Rescue while the district searched for a permanent replacement has retired a second time, leaving the fourth-largest department in the state without a chief.

Jack Andren was brought back in September 2015 to replace Chief Kenneth Wright, who abruptly stepped down for fear the board of commissioners would oust him.

Andren re-entered retirement July 31 after giving the board two weeks’ notice.

The board decided not to appoint an interim chief and instead asked the two deputy chiefs to report directly to commissioners.

A meeting is scheduled for Aug. 15 to decide how to proceed with finding a new chief.

“You don’t just run down to Walmart and find a new chief,” chairman Bob Willis said. “It’s going to be ongoing.”

The fire district serves about 200,000 people in communities from Parkland to Puyallup.

Officials could not explain why the search for a permanent chief was never launched 11 months ago after Wright stepped down and Andren came back in an interim capacity.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Russ Karns, president of Pierce County Professional Firefighters Local 726.

He said union members respected Andren’s leadership and didn’t want him to leave, but believe an interim chief soon will be appointed.

“I’m never comfortable when I’m leaderless, but to go along with that, there are people working on solutions and getting it resolved in a reasonable amount of time,” Karns said.

In an email sent to department employees July 12, Andren estimated the board would have a replacement plan in place in four to six weeks.

He reminded employees that he entered a one-year contract with the board to serve as chief.

“Which required me to re-enter the state retirement system as an active full-time employee,” Andren wrote. “With that anniversary approaching, I have decided I would rather not work full time.”

Andren initially retired from Central Pierce in May 2010 after 42 years of fire service, nine of which were as chief.

About a year later, state auditors found the board had inappropriately increased his pay before he retired and violated state law by making a decision behind closed doors.

Andren said then he didn’t mean to act improperly and officials contended the additional pay was meant to fulfill severance agreement terms dating to the 1970s.

He said on his return last year that he paid back the difference.

When he returned as interim chief in 2015, Andren was paid $14,555 per month, the same amount Wright made.

Last year, when the board was reviewing Wright’s leadership, Willis didn’t elaborate on specific problems, though he said the “department wasn’t functioning adequately.”

After stepping down as chief, Wright took an assistant chief job in the district.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

What: Special meeting to discuss finding a new fire chief

When: 6 p.m. Aug. 15

Where: Station 69, 17210 110th Ave E., Puyallup.