VIFR board selects a new chief

t But candidate wants his family to visit Vashon first.

The Vashon fire department’s board of commissioners has selected a veteran fire chief who hails from the Northeast to become the Island’s new top firefighter.

In a unanimous decision, the board voted to offer the top job at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) to Hank Lipe, who currently serves as the chief of a fire department in Hampton, N.H. The board offered him a salary of $105,000 a year.

Lipe has been at the department nine years, according to acting fire chief Mike Kirk. Prior to that, he was the fire chief at another New Hampshire community, according to the Hampton fire department’s Web site; he also worked as the fire chief for a small department in Ohio, where he began his fire service career as a volunteer firefighter in 1977.

The department offered the job to Lipe last week and then began a round of negotiations over salary and other employment terms with him. After commissioners selected him by a 4-0 vote, with one commissioner absent, Lipe said he wanted his family to come to Vashon before he made his final decision. He plans to visit this weekend, Kirk said.

“I can understand that an individual moving from New Hampshire ... would want his family to visit and to understand as fully as possible what aspects of the move are going to mean in their lives,” Kirk said.

Commissioners, meanwhile, said they’re enthusiastic about Lipe, who struck them as a skilled firefighter as well as an affable and diplomatic man. Commissioner Gayle Sommers, who missed the vote, said she would have supported him as well, had she been able to attend the special session last week.

“He seems like ... a real person. There’s just no artifice there,” she said. “I think he’ll do very well with our community and very well, I think, politically.”

The Vashon department has struggled in the last several years, ever since it moved from being an all-volunteer fire department to one that combines both volunteers and career firefighters. Keith Yamane, the previous chief, attempted to heal some of the hard feelings that developed under his predecessor, Jim Wilson.

Commissioners said they hoped Lipe could take the department to a new level. The fact that he won support from several Islanders — including a panel of community members — bodes well, they said.

“What was especially gratifying is that ... everybody who voiced an opinion about him was on the same page,” said Commissioner Neal Philip.

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