Now almost two months into the tenure of new Fire Chief Matt Vinci, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) is starting to see significant changes — including a new administrative staffing structure, the purchase of new vehicles, plans for an upcoming strategic plan and even a new sculpture in its lobby.
The sculpture — a chainsaw woodcarving of a happy firefighter, by late islander Gene Amondson, now stands sentry in the lobby of VIRF’s Station 55.
But there are also other new faces in the station as well.
Christina Bosch, an executive administrator who served for 22 years at Key Peninsula Fire Department (KPFD), has now been hired as VIFR’s director of finances and human relations.
Combining the jobs of financial director and human relations — previously filled at VIFR by two staffers — is part of the staff reconfiguration that Vinci said at an Aug. 31 regular meeting of commissioners would save the district $30,000 a year in personnel costs.
Bosch’s hire and salary, set at $120,000 a year plus benefits, was approved at the meeting, where Bosch also made her first report on the district’s finances, detailing recent expenditures as well as the district’s overall cash on hand, totaling just over $6 million including funds in reserve accounts.
Bosch described the balance as a very favorable cash position, considering that the district will receive 31% to 33% of its tax revenue in October.
In an exit interview with the Key Penisula News, Bosch characterized her new job with VIFR as a challenge she was eager to take on despite a substantial pay cut from her job with KPFD.
VIFR’s administrative staff restructure also includes a higher salary for recently-hired administrative aide Denise Paquette, who has now been given additional business office responsibilities. A final staffing position to be filled is that of the district secretary, which Vinci has now slotted as a 15-hour-a-week position to be paid in the $25 per hour range.
Vinci’s contract approved
On Aug. 31, commissioners also approved a new contract with Vinci, who was hired as fire chief by the board at its July 20 commissioners’ meeting — one week after commissioners had voted to terminate the employment of former chief Charles Krimmert.
Commissioners approved the contract with a 4-0 vote, with Chair Candy McCullough not casting a vote as she was absent from the meeting.
The three-year contract, negotiated by the district’s attorney, Eric Quinn, awards Vinci an annual salary of $190,000, plus a package of benefits — a notable increase from Krimmert’s base salary of $167,642 at the time of his departure, but one that Vinci characterized as comparable with other similarly-sized fire departments in Skyway, Maple Valley and Key Peninsula.
Vinci, a newcomer to Vashon, was first hired as VIFR’s assistant chief and began his work in that role on June 1.
His career as a fire service professional spans almost 30 years, including two decades in operations, leaving as a captain/EMT with the City of South Burlington, Vermont, Fire Department. Most recently he has served in leadership roles within the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) headquartered in Washington, D.C., as both the chief of staff and the director of education, training and human relations.
Strategic planning now underway
At the Aug. 31 meeting, Vinci detailed an upcoming 10-step process to create a new community-based fire and emergency medical services strategic plan for the district.
The strategic plan will be led by the Florida-based Dynamix Consulting Group, which was hired by the board at a cost of $45,000 to VIFR after the group, recommended by Vinci, made a presentation to the fire board at its July meeting.
On Sept. 8, the consultants held their first preliminary session with VIFR, meeting with an internal team from the district that included board representative Pam King. The ongoing process will include surveys, meetings and workshops with internal and external stakeholders, and result in a finalized strategic plan to be approved early next year.
At the meeting, Vinci also detailed his sense of urgency to increase VIFR’s staff of career firefighters, with four newly hired firefighters still in 20-week training for their positions.
Currently, the district is operating with a staff of only nine career firefighters, due to retirements and moves to jobs in other districts by some of Vashon’s staff in the past year. The remaining firefighters, according to Bosch’s financial report, are all now working significant amounts of overtime in order to cover the island.
“We are understaffed,” said Vinci, detailing how earlier that same day, the station had been emptied of responders after back-to-back calls came in — a now-frequent situation known in district parlance as a Zone 1 Callback, requesting that volunteers and off-duty career staff return to the station in the event that more calls for help come into the district.
In a case of life-threatening fire or medical emergency, Vinci said, minutes and seconds count.
“There are times when the island is without staff to respond, and we have to address it,” he said. “Our captains manage it, but there are times when we’re bare on this island, and that is not opinion, it’s fact.”
At the meeting, Vinci won board approval to work with an auction house to surplus six district vehicles which he said were aging, costly to maintain, and no longer reliably serving the district, and to purchase two 2022 utility SUVs as well as a 2022 training pickup. Buying the vehicles now, Vinci said, would be less costly than purchasing new models next year.
A new work of art
On Monday, several firefighters gathered for a photo op surrounding the chainsaw sculpture of a friendly firefighter which was recently donated to VIFR by the children of Gene Amondson.
Amondson, who died in 2009, was well-known both on and beyond Vashon, running twice for U.S. President on the Prohibition Party slate, in 2004 and 2008 — a quest that included appearances on the Oprah show and the Daily Show with John Stewart, where he spread his message about the pleasures of sobriety, telling people to “get on the water wagon.”
On Vashon, he was equally famous as a pastor, pie-maker, and folk artist who created chainsaw woodcarvings, some of which still decorate driveways and roadways in town.
Andrew Amondson, the son of Gene, said he fondly remembered going to the fire station with his father, who had his blood pressure checked weekly there. His father always spoke highly of VIFR, Andrew said, and the people who worked there. When he recently came across the sculpture among other items in his father’s estate, he immediately thought it belonged at VIFR, he said.