Puyallup: Sumner

Sumner firefighter proud to lead home station

East Pierce Fire & Rescue provides service to more than 88,000 people living in the communities of Bonney Lake, Sumner, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Edgewood and Milton. The district covers 151 miles and has six staffed stations, four volunteer stations and a boathouse on Lake Tapps.

Matt Gilbert, the newest lieutenant at Station 13, which primarily serves Sumner, is excited to take on a leadership role at the station located in his own community.

He was promoted in July, but was pinned his lieutenant badge at a formal ceremony at the commissioners meeting Feb. 17.

“The big thing about moving to lieutenant is that good ideas you had in the past are now decisions,” he said. “You have to change your mindset from ‘I have an opinion about something’ to ‘I’m making a decision for a group of people now.’ (The crew’s) success depends on me making a decision, and my success depends on them backing my play. My crew can wreck me or make me look good, depending on how good they are.”

The lieutenant’s role, according to Gilbert, is supervising the crew working at the station that day. It’s similar to a mid-level supervisor, as Gilbert answers to the battalion chief responsible for all of the stations on that particular day.

The journey to get to the rank of lieutenant didn’t happen overnight.

He started his firefighter career in the late 1990s, serving as a volunteer firefighter in Pacific. His first career firefighter job was with the city of Tukwila, where he worked until 2009 when he underwent a lateral transfer to East Pierce.

“I was able to come in like a second-year employee,” he said. “I didn’t have to go through the academy and do things that a lot of brand new hires would have to do.”

Managing two to three 24-hour shifts a week year after year, Gilbert worked his way up to a leadership position with the fire department.

“You go through a testing process,” he said. “There’s a professional qualifications sheet that you have to fill out that takes into account things you do in the department, training you have sought out, it looks at you as overall candidate. Then you do a peer review where people have the opportunity to submit their stance on you, and then you go through an oral board where you sit and answer questions from people within and outside the department. That creates a list, once that list is created then the chief interviews when there is an opening he’ll interview the top three candidates and he picks one.”

Building up those professional qualifications is something that requires a lot of prep work on one’s own time, Gilbert said. That prep work did pay off, however, once he was selected as the top candidate for the position.

The most important role now for Gilbert is making sure that each firefighter on his crew is successful.

“You get to see direct results,” he said. “My decisions have a direct impact on my crew and their success. I feel like I have an impact on the success of the people around me. I really have a great crew here.”