It’s official. Dustin Morrow signs on as chief beginning April 1. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

After an exhaustive search, a new fire chief was hired from outside the local district.

The Board of Commissioners of Key Peninsula Fire District 16 selected Dustin Morrow as their top pick for chief at its Feb. 28 meeting. Two weeks later, at the Mar. 12 commissioners meeting, Morrow signed a contract and, followed by a round of applause, left that evening as Chief Morrow. 

“We had many outstanding candidates but it is Dustin Morrow who stands out as the best fit for our fire department and our community,” said Commissioner Frank Grubaugh, the current board chair. 

In his role as Deputy Fire Chief with Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue in Oregon, Morrow was second in command of a fire protection district servicing 390 square miles from 26 stations, protecting nearly half a million citizens with a staff of over 500. 

But his start came as a teen after joining as a volunteer firefighter for his hometown department in West Linn, Oregon. He spent his first eight years as a career firefighter there, where he was outnumbered by volunteers 10-to-1.

“In 2002, we moved up the Washougal River to Washington, where we lived for 12 years on 8 acres, until the commute just became unbearable––four hours each day to get to and from work,” he said. Eager to spend less time commuting, when a unique opportunity to work in the private sector came up, Morrow took it. 

But his heart was still in firefighting and his absence was short-lived. 

“When we decided to come back to firefighting, the top thing was––it had to be in a rural area. We started searching,” Morrow said. His wife Laurie’s parents once lived in Gig Harbor, so they had been there, but hadn’t explored it much. 

“It’s so perfect for us we can hardly believe it,” Morrow said. “I guess you could say we are very excited to be here and become part of this community.” 

Laurie is a graphic artist who for the last 16 years has operated a small printing business. The couple, married 27 years, has three sons: Austin, 23, stayed back in Oregon; Garrett, 19, and Bryce, 17, live at home. 

“It’s so perfect for us we can hardly believe it.”

In a rental house for now, the Morrows purchased 5 acres in Longbranch and are in the early phases of building their new home. 

The board of fire commissioners developed its hiring strategy in early fall 2018 when then chair Commissioner Keith Davies said he felt that “hiring an individual the caliber of a fire chief, with the salary range of a fire chief,” was something he personally had no experience with, and neither had any of the other commissioners.

“None of us have degrees in Human Resources. We wanted experts to help us with the overall process,” Davies said. 

The board hired The Prothman Co., an executive placement firm based in Issaquah, to advise and assist them in a search for the best candidate to lead the department. 

Davies said he felt confident the community would understand the rationale for spending money to use a recruiting firm, but acknowledged that after the board made the decision, “there was some internal grumbling.” 

Prothman conducted interviews with interested community members, career staff, administrative personnel and volunteer firefighters to get a feel for what people on the KP value in their fire department.

There were 26 applicants; Prothman recommended 12 to the board and the board narrowed the field to five.

The board hosted a community meet-and-greet for the five candidates Feb. 28, where candidates casually mingled with members of the public interested in sizing them up. 

The next day, four panels of six met at Gig Harbor Fire and Medic Headquarters to further evaluate the candidates. Three panels consisted of one career battalion chief and one volunteer firefighter from the district; two career battalion chiefs from nearby fire districts; and two community members. A fourth panel consisted of the fire commissioners and a representative from Prothman. 

At the conclusion, panelists reported their findings to the board. 

“The gratifying thing for me was that the people initially opposed to using an HR firm remained involved in the process and on the panels,” said Davies. “Sitting on the final panels changed their minds and I’m grateful they told us, ‘No––this is the best thing we’ve done.’”

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