Fire District 16 Fire Chief Tom Lique was honored during the annual banquet of the Pierce County Fire Chiefs’ and Fire Commissioners’ Association on Dec. 2 at the Fircrest Country Club. Chief Lique was selected as the “2010 Chief Officer of the Year” and presented with the prestigious “Chief Dan Packer Memorial” award. According to the vice president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association, Gary McVay, this award was first created for Deputy Chief John McDonald, who displayed extraordinary leadership at the East Pierce Fire District following the tragic death of their Fire Chief Dan Packer during a California wild fire in 2008.
“In 2008 we needed to recognize the Chiefs doing great things, with an award,” he said. To date, Chief Lique is one of only three chief officers who have received the award. He was selected by unanimous vote of the Association’s executive board. “To be chosen from nearly 130 chief officers in the district is nothing to shake a stick at either,” McVay added.
The award was recognition of Lique’s tenacity and leadership during the most challenging years in Key Peninsula fire district history. Lique handled issues that range from the critical decision to fire a chief during a levy election to investigating a complaint of indecent exposure from an anonymous letter writer.
“In the time of trying to make that decision (firing the chief), the thought came to me: this was either a strong move or the largest blunder in the history the fire department. It could be devastating to the EMS levy and to the entire work force,” Lique said.
The result of his decision was the decisive approval of the levy by voters. For Lique the levy votes reinforced integrity first and foremost as the basis for decision making issues. He applied the same standard toward the anonymous complaint. He stood in front of the King 5 cameras and said there would be an investigation into the complaint about fire fighters skinny dipping at Penrose Park.
The result of the investigation by legal counsel found that the incident did not occur during a fire department function–the fire fighters were camping and off duty; and because they went into the water on the back and dark side of Penrose, there were no witnesses—the fire fighters said they couldn’t even see each other. “The Board determined that discipline was not warranted,” Lique said. He feels the message was sent. “We do have integrity in the fire department. We will look into it,” he said.
The Dan Packer Memorial award is dedicated to the memory a man who was “Chief of Chiefs” according to Cliff McCollum, Assistant Chief at Brown’s Point-Dash Point Fire District 13. McCollum was pleased that Lique was selected. He has known him for many years and they have taught classes together in Tacoma. “(Lique) is well deserved of that award,” he said. “This man has devoted his whole life at that fire department.”
Lique started working at the Key Peninsula fire department in 1984. It was his senior year of high school, and during the ride home on the school bus, Robert Bosch talked him into working together at the fire department. He spent his spring break in an initial
training class and says, “The rest is history. I had the bug. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I knew this was the community I wanted to do it in.”
Lique graduated in June of 1985 and moved into the fire station in Key Center as a resident fire fighter. He put himself through paramedic school and formed a habit of taking courses that applied to the career ladder he was climbing. Eventually, he enrolled in an Associates Arts program at Bates Technical College and has finished a degree in fire command and administration. He is presently completing a second AA degree in emergency medicine. He believes a fire officer with a formal degree adds credibility to the organization.
The fire chief job is literally full time. With his pager, Lique is on the clock 24 hours a day. Recent health issues have caused him to realize that he has been burning his candle at both ends. He is making an effort to work fewer hours at home when he is out of the office. However, he admits he is famous with the staff for sending 3 a.m. emails.
At the ceremony, Chief McVay presented the Dan Packer Award and said that Lique mentioned there were times when he experienced the phenomenon of being lonely at the top. The wording for qualification for the award reads, (the recipient)”Displays the high integrity, care, and compassion towards his/her department and citizens they serve while exceeding the expectations of peers and portraying the positive image for the Pierce County Fire Chiefs’ Association”. That night, “at that moment of receiving the award, he didn’t feel alone at all,” McVay said.