BELLINGHAM - It hasn't really hit Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Boyd yet.
After 29 years with the fire department, he's retiring to take a management job with a Ferndale-based industrial company, he announced Wednesday, Sept. 12.
But the chief doesn't feel nostalgic about it. Not yet.
"It probably won't hit me until I'm out of it for about a month," Boyd said, "when I hear sirens or see a column of smoke."
The timing of his retirement - eight days after Bellingham Police Chief Todd Ramsay announced his own retirement - leaves the city looking to replace its two most prominent faces in public safety.
It happened by sheer coincidence: "He didn't know I was going, I didn't know he was going," Boyd said.
So far, Mayor Kelli Linville has declined to talk specifics about their successors. Or successor.
Janice Keller, an administrative assistant with the mayor's office, said Linville wouldn't rule out filling both positions with one employee. (The mayor was too busy to speak to a reporter Wednesday, Keller said, because she was catching up after getting back from vacation.)
When Boyd was promoted from assistant chief to acting chief in 2003, his old position wasn't filled, saving the city $69,500 in salary. Boyd's current yearly salary is $125,172, before benefits are factored in.
Regardless of who takes over the fire chief's duties, Boyd is bequeathing a handful of unanswered policy questions to his successor.
One of those looming questions is the future of emergency medical services in Whatcom County.
Boyd has pushed toward more consolidation - cutting down on redundancies and allowing for more mutual aid calls. He feels like he's made some progress by working with the city's neighboring fire districts. But as a whole, it hasn't come together as fast as Boyd would have liked.
The EMS debate has gone on for much of Boyd's career: At the first meeting he attended as assistant chief in 1999, that was the main topic of discussion.
"Ever since then I felt like I've been battling that," he said. "It's been extremely challenging."
As a former paramedic, it's an issue that's easy to take personally. But if he could go back in time and give himself any advice, he'd say, "Don't take it too personal. It's a job."
There's also the question of whether the department can replace its old fire boat. The subject came up again this year after Jim Langei and Sterling Taylor, husband and wife, were killed in a massive boat fire in Squalicum Harbor.
On Monday, the city council voted in a new fire code for the marina. That means a new sprinkler system for the boat houses and routine fire inspections.
But local government doesn't have the money for a new boat, Boyd believes. So the latest approach has been to seek out grants to help pay for one.
Before the marina tragedy came one of the high points for the department during Boyd's tenure, when firefighters saved the MacGregor family from their burning home in Happy Valley.
"In my career we've never pulled three people out of a house fire and had them live," he said.
Boyd has witnessed the response to almost every major Bellingham tragedy in the past three decades: Fire Chief Mike Leigh was out of town during the Bellingham pipeline explosion in 1999, so Boyd was in charge. He also was on the job for the Kulshan Middle School fire in 1993 and was the chief when Whatcom Middle School went up in flames in 2009.
Boyd recalled an old joke made by a former division chief: Losing one middle school to a fire is bad. But losing two?
"Then it's time to retire," Boyd said.
At Boyd's new job with Coastal Industrial Services, he'll oversee health and safety for employees and clients. The company specializes in tank cleaning.
His last day with the fire department is Oct. 12. It goes without saying he's going to miss his old job.
"I have a lot of my heart and soul wrapped up into it," he said.
Reach CALEB HUTTON at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2276.