Key Peninsula Fire District Chief Guy Allen submitted his notice of retirement to the board of fire commissioners April 24, but he’s in no hurry to go.
“I plan to be flexible with the hiring process so I don’t leave the district in a lurch,” Allen said. “In a perfect world, my last day would be April 30 of next year, which would fulfill my 20th year of service on the Key Peninsula and would be my 39th year in the fire service.”
Allen, who turns 55 in June, was hired in August 2014 after Chief Tom Lique was asked to resign by the fire commissioners earlier that year. He will be the first chief to retire from the position in decades. Lique succeeded Eric Livengood Nelson in 2005 after Nelson resigned; Nelson succeeded Gary Franz when he left to take a position as deputy chief in Graham in 2002.
“I really liked Tom, probably more than he knew,” Allen said. “He took over and carried us through some really tumultuous times.” The department experienced staff, financial and image problems in the early 2000s, including public infighting among board members. Allen faced a budget deficit and the likelihood of ordering layoffs when he accepted the job, he said.
“Stability is hard to come by in the fire service; it’s a tough place to be sometimes,” said Administrative Manager Christina Bosch, who has been with the department since 2000. “We were all in a state of recovery from a couple of very difficult years. Chief Allen came at the end of that to help us adjust to the new norm that we were getting ready to face.” Bosch said with the help of passing levies, the district enjoys a financial stability it hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession.
Fire commissioner and board chair Keith Davies was on the board that hired Allen.
“I felt we needed to go outside the department when we were looking to replace Tom,” he said. “We actually opened up a nationwide search at that time.”
The department received 22 applications from the state and across the country. “We’d appointed Chief Allen as the interim chief, but he threw his hat in the ring toward the end of the process,” Davies said.
A hiring committee scored all of the applicants and Allen was in the top three. “This showed he was capable of doing the job, and it showed me that we truly didn’t settle for less,” Davies said. “He was already in there, he had the respect of the crews, and he has done an outstanding job for our organization.”
Allen is leaving the job now for personal reasons. “In May last year, I had a sudden onset of chest pain on a Sunday afternoon and was treated by paramedics for cardiac symptoms. I was laying there in ER for six hours pondering what that might mean. Turned out to be the gall bladder, but I just couldn’t shake that mindset of the effects that stress has on long-term health and I decided I’d done enough.”
Allen began his career in the fire service in Whatcom County in 1980 as a 17-year-old volunteer. He responded out of the old grange hall station in Birch Bay “across from the water slides,” he said. His first paid job was as a maintenance mechanic. He went to the state firefighter academy in 1983 and went to work in Blaine in 1989 for Fire Chief Gary Franz. Franz left to become fire chief on the KP in 1994. Allen later passed his lieutenant’s exam and when there was an opening on the KP in 1999, Franz offered it to him.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen to people,” Allen said. “I’ve got a lot of good stories to share, but the really horrific ones—I can flash back to those in a moment and the emotions are always right there. That tells me it’s time to do something else.
“I’ve got one granddaughter and another one due anytime now,” he said. (By press time, Allen’s second granddaughter was born; both mother and daughter were doing well).
The board of commissioners will begin to work on the hiring process in June, Davies said, including consideration of a professional search firm.
“I am going to be looking for characteristics very similar to what Guy Allen possesses because he does just a tremendous job for us,” he said. “I want somebody who has the respect of the crews, who can earn the respect of the citizens, and who can be present in the community and lead us forward.”