Northwest News

East Pierce Fire selects new chief from Issaquah

East Pierce Fire and Rescue selected a new chief at a special meeting Thursday.

The board of fire commissioners voted unanimously to offer the fire district’s top job to E.L. “Bud” Backer, who serves as deputy chief of Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah, according to a fire district news release.

Backer will be hired as soon as officials finalize his contract, which will determine his salary and start date.

“Bud is skilled in all aspects of the job,” Dale Mitchell, board chairman, said in the release. “He embodies all the things we are looking for.”

Chief Jerry Thorson retires at the end of June after more than 40 years in fire service. Thorson has worked as chief since 2009, overseeing the district as its service area has nearly doubled to 83,000 residents.

Backer takes over after holding several leadership positions around the state.

He was deputy chief for Woodinville Fire and Life Safety for more than nine years, after serving as fire chief of King County Fire District 45 in Duvall, where he started his career and moved through the ranks.

Backer has a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Eastern Washington University, a master of science degree in fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University, and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.

The new chief was selected after a national search that yielded 21 candidates, according to the release. The field was narrowed to five finalists who met with the public last week.

Commissioners hope to approve the new chief’s contract at their May 19 meeting, according to the release. The board will announce Backer’s start date.

East Pierce Fire provides protection to a broad area in and around Bonney Lake, Sumner, Lake Tapps, South Prairie, Edgewood and Milton. Thorson was in charge as the area grew significantly; Edgewood and Milton both merged with East Pierce during his time as chief.

The new chief takes control of the district amid financial challenges.

Two maintenance and operation levy measures were rejected by voters last year. Failure to renew the levy, which represented more than 15 percent of the district’s operating budget, resulted in deep cuts to fire and emergency services in November.

Late last year, six layoff notices were issued to temporary and career firefighters. Thorson announced his retirement a month after the district narrowly avoided most of those layoffs.

Despite an eventual labor agreement, a secretary was still laid off and another staff member was reduced to part time.