Editorial: An agency responds

Chief Hank Lipe, the new head of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, as well as the board that hired him are doing something fairly remarkable in this day of political gamesmanship, when Orwellian speak seems to dominate.

Rather than mincing words in an attempt to obfuscate the issues surrounding a discrimination lawsuit the department lost last week, Lipe said he’s going to address the concerns the lawsuit raised, work to reform the culture and bring in an expert to help the department chart a new course.

There was a bit of a dance in his words. Even while saying he plans to change the culture, he noted that he’s seen nothing wrong with the department since he stepped in and that the problems that led up to Lanora Hackett’s lawsuit predate him.

The fact is, both can be true. There are many remarkable people at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, men and women who are doing their jobs well day in and day out. Hackett’s lawsuit, however, also shined a light into a dark corner of that department, revealing another dimension to the agency and its leadership, top brass who apparently had neither the skill nor the stomach to confront the issues.

What’s encouraging is that both Lipe and board chair Neal Philip have acknowledged that a failure of leadership paved the way for Hackett’s lawsuit. It’s an easy admission for two newcomers to the department to make. At the same time, it bodes well. Every indication, since Lipe’s arrival, is that a new day has come to the fire department.

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