Fire Marshal Low's departure for Quilcene: One resignation, a lot of shoes to fill
February 2, 2010 · Updated 1:47 PM
One resignation, a lot of shoes to fill.
Bob Low's resignation as San Juan County fire marshal to become fire chief in Quilcene has left a void in more than one area on San Juan Island.
Low's last day as San Juan County fire marshal was Jan. 28. His first day on the job in Quilcene was Feb. 1. Besides serving as fire marshal, he was also a San Juan EMT, and had just completed a term as a hospital district commissioner. Low ran for mayor in November and had sought appointment to the Town Council in January. He was actively seeking street improvements for his neighborhood, the Greenway subdivision, which has poor drainage and potholed streets.
His wife, Barbara, was active in the local American Red Cross chapter and was also an EMT.
However, the Lows may not have to sell their Friday Harbor home; his new job comes with a house.
"I will be leaving Friday Harbor," Low wrote in an e-mail Jan. 21. "This means many things for me, leaving my friends, leaving my job, leaving some of my family and leaving my home. I have accepted a new job as a fire chief which is the job I love to get up in the morning for. The place I am going is beautiful and made up of good people and great firefighters and EMTs."
Low was chief of the Friday Harbor Fire Department from 1998-2006, then became county fire marshal under a new arrangement; the county, which is responsible for providing fire marshal services, contracted with the islands' fire districts to provide the service, to be funded with fees from burn permits, inspections and other services. The county was to help pay any revenue shortfall.
San Juan Island Fire Chief Steve Marler, who oversees the fire marshal's office, said Low was looking for more job security, because funding for the fire marshal position is precarious.
With Low's departure, the fire marshal's position undergoes a transition, as designed by the county's fire chiefs and the sheriff.
— Plan review: Plan review will be outsourced to Low, because he has the local knowledge, Marler said. (Low has agreed to respond to messages left on the fire marshal's phone line for 60 days too). Plan review could be outsourced to another professional firm at some point.
— Fire inspections: Orcas Island Fire Department's Paul Turner, who has been serving as a part-time fire inspector, will be elevated to full time with the title of deputy fire marshal.
— Fire investigations: Lopez Island Fire Chief Jim Ghiglione and Marler on San Juan Island will take responsibility for fire investigations.
— Who has the fire marshal title?: Under the county's contract with the county fire districts, the chief of the San Juan Island Fire Department is fire marshal, a responsibility that was delegated to Low. Marler is fire marshal, at least in title.
The fire marshal's office was expected to be revenue neutral, wholly supported by fees for service. The county would cover 20 percent of any revenue shortfall; the fire districts would split the rest based on their district's assessed valuation.
In 2009, the shortfall was at least $30,000; the county's share was about $6,800, Marler said. However, revenues exceeded expenditures in the last quarter of the year.
Under the transition plan, Marler said he expects a reduction in plan review costs. As fire marshal, Low was earning $69,420 a year; some money will be used to pay Turner for his additional responsibilities, but the fire districts will see an expense reduction in salary too.
Marler said he wants to see what the workload is for fire inspections. Ultimately, fire inspections and fire investigations could be delegated to two part-time fire inspectors, he said.
Won't miss town politics
In that Jan. 21 e-mail, Low wrote that he won't miss town politics, "the burden they have put on this community. Spending our money like it is an open-ended checkbook."
He had a message for Friday Harbor's mayor and council.
"I challenge the mayor to prove to the people that come to me every day worried about how things will be now that you are mayor. Show them that you are here for them. You said in your campaign that you would listen to them. You haven’t so far," Low wrote.
"I challenge council member Brooks to not be afraid of dissension with her fellow council members. Dissension doesn’t have to be a bad thing if done with respect. I challenge Noel and Felix to keep your independent ideas because they are the dissension that will help to lead this community. I challenge you, Steve, to show this community that you are not the handpicked council member they think you are. Stand up for the people they need you to be a leader not a follower. And (Anna Maria), I challenge you to speak up, we can’t hear you and what you have to say is important."
To Friday Harbor voters, he wrote, "To the people of Friday Harbor, remember to fill those council seats and speak your opinion."
Low said the county's firefighters and EMTs "have taught me what it is to give freely to your community without expecting anything in return. You are the best."
In closing, he wrote, "It’s been a great 25 years. I look forward to the challenges of my new job and look back at Friday Harbor with fond memories."