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Another seat on Vashon fire board is contested
In a much less public race, longtime VIFR volunteer Deborah Brown is challenging incumbent Ron Turner, a retired Cost Guard senior chief who will finish his six-year term this year.
To call Deborah Brown’s resume eclectic is an understatement. It’s her diverse experience both on and off the Island that she believes would make her an asset as a fire commissioner.
“I touch a lot of different pockets in this community and have worked with different pockets in this community, and I have their trust,” she said.
She and her husband Rick Brown have both volunteered with VIFR for more than 15 years, and together they revitalized the department’s Explorer program. Though she no longer responds, Brown still leads the Explorers and teaches classes at the fire department.
Brown, who has a warm, even bubbly personality, said that she has been thinking of joining the fire board for at least five years, and believes now is the right time. Not only does she have time to commit, she said, but she believes her experiences have prepared her to join the board as the fire department may enter a period of financial insecurity.
“I think my skills base lends itself well to what the department needs right now” she said.
Brown, who grew up in south Seattle and was once a professional ballet dancer, is currently a substitute teacher on Vashon. She has worked all over since moving to Vashon two decades ago, listing more than 20 on- and off-Island positions on her resume, from medical assistant at the Vashon Health Center to executive director of the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce to facilities project manager at Boeing.
She has served on several community boards, including those for the Vashon Park District and Vashon-Maury Island Community Food Bank, and in 2002 she was an alternate board member to the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Growth Management Board.
With a master’s degree in organizational systems and environmental management from Pacific Lutheran University, Brown says her volunteer and professional experience both on and off the Island have given her connections — such as ties within the King County Department of Transportation — that would be valuable to the fire department as it continues to rely on county support, such as the EMS levy and road repairs. She has even developed valuable relationships with other fire districts through her work with the Explorers, she said.
“I think (the board has) done a good job, but I think there’s more we need to do,” she said. “I’m in a place right now where I have the energy and connections and that’s what I want to do.”
Brown said she believes VIFR has been “doing its own thing” and having success, but is entering a time when it must depend more and more on other agencies in order to keep its funding and may face the task of cutting its budget. She thinks her grant-writing experience will come into play as well.
“There is money out there, and we need to get it,” she said.
Brown is the mother of a student at McMurray Middle School, and it would be tough to find a facet of Vashon life that she hasn’t been involved in. As a fire commissioner, she said she would stand up for Vashon’s fire department among a sea of agencies looking to sustain their services.
“I think this is time we need to collaborate rather than be our own selves,” she said. “We need to broaden our horizons. I have those connections and abilities.”
Ron Turner says he knows Vashon and he understands its fire department. And he should — the 61-year-old who owns a Vashon bed and breakfast rarely leaves the Island. The last time he left, he said, was three years ago to lobby in Olympia for Vashon’s ferry service.
Turner moved to the Vashon more than 20 years ago after retiring from a 24-year career with the Coast Guard. Including his previous experience as a volunteer firefighter, he says he has more than 30 years of emergency services experience.
Having served on the fire board during VIFR’s most tumultuous years, Turner speaks highly of the current leadership at the department, and credits himself and other board members with helping improve VIFR’s image after new leadership stepped in.
“Nobody has said to me that they’re unhappy with the fire department today, and it was hard to find someone who wasn’t unhappy with the fire department six years ago,” he said.
Upon joining the board half a dozen year ago, Turner, who speaks frankly, said he’s been a strict enforcer of policy in his capacity on the board.
“I have been vigilant about knowing what’s going on at the fire department and have been quick to point out the policy says this, the law says this, you have to do what the policy says,” he said.
Turner also says he’s responsible for several positive changes at the department. He explained that upon his election to the board, he made a list of 36 things he thought the department should do differently, calling them “not rocket science, just common sense.”
Now, he said, almost every item on the list has been done. Some, however, weren’t accomplished until long after he brought them up. For example, he says, six years ago he suggested that the department purchase a home in Burton to house responders and improve response times to the the south end and Maury Island. Commissioners couldn’t come to an agreement at the time, and the home was purchased last year.
“By doing that, we were able to improve response time, according to administrators, by 67 percent,” he said.
Turner says that many of his ideas have come to fruition only after he made them seem like others’ ideas.
“I made it somebody else’s idea, and when it was somebody else’s idea it was a good one,” he said.
Turner believes the board will have its work cut out for it if it loses its EMS funding, which makes up half of the department’s budget. He was adamant, however, that the department shouldn’t ask Islanders to make up for the lost funds in a new levy.
“We the people are financially embarrassed,” he said. “We can’t afford to pay any more.”
He said he already knows of ways the department could cut its budget, if necessary.
“I have a number of ideas and there’s a number of ways we can make adjustments before we go out and ask the people to give more money.”
Other than the upcoming levy expiration, Turner said there are no significant issues looming in the department’s future and he is pleased with what he’s accomplished as a board member.
“At the end of my six years, I feel very good. I know I have been a contributing member of the fire department, and it is a much better place than it was six years ago. This time next year, if I’m still on the board, it will be a better place,” he said.
The four candidates for the fire board will take part in a public debate tonight at 7 p.m. at the Penny Farcy Training Center on Bank Road.