Anacortes has selected a new fire chief.
Bill Harris, battalion chief at Sunnyside Fire Department in Yakima County, is set to start April 6. He was selected by Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere and succeeds interim Fire Chief Mike Ganz, who has been filling in since January. The last full-time fire chief, Dave Oliveri, departed in October.
Gere said she will ask the City Council on April 5 to confirm her hire of Harris. Confirmation is expected because members of the City Council participated in the interview process.
“We went through a good vetting process,” Gere said Tuesday. “The fire department, the police department, the City Council and other (department) directors were involved. We all think he’s an incredible candidate.”
She added, “I look at him as someone who can provide vision and leadership for the department.”
Harris was one of nine applicants for the position. He will be paid $120,000 a year, according to city Administrative Services Director Emily Schuh.
Harris, 45, has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from Eastern Oregon University. He started his firefighter career in Dallas, Oregon, a city of 15,000 located west of Salem. He has been with the Sunnyside department since 1999, and as battalion chief has filled that department’s second highest-ranking position.
Harris said Tuesday that he and his wife have rented a home in Anacortes and will be moving here April 5. Their two adult sons, one of whom served in the Navy at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, will also be moving here.
Harris said he and his wife were introduced to Anacortes while visiting their son at NAS Whidbey Island and began vacationing here.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he said.
Harris said Anacortes and Sunnyside are similar in population and fire department staffing, although Sunnyside has 40 volunteers in addition to its 20 full-time firefighters.
“The department has done a great job of planning,” he said of Anacortes. “My goal is to identify what the future holds and understand expected growth.”
The challenges of growth are looming. In addition to fire and EMS, or emergency medical services, response within city limits, the Anacortes department assists neighboring departments as needed and provides EMS services to an area that extends east to Best Road. Gere said the department was dispatched to 800 fire calls and 4,000 medical calls last year.
The department is planning a station on March Point, needs to buy a new ladder truck and an additional ambulance, and has applied for a FEMA grant called SAFER — Staffing For Adequate Fire And Emergency Response — so it can hire more firefighters through 2024.
Assistant Chief Jack Kennedy told the City Council earlier this year that the department needs to increase staffing on initial response from two to three firefighters to improve rescue capabilities.
Sunnyside City Manager Martin Casey said Harris is well prepared for the job.
“He’s had a long career here, very distinguished and very professional,” he said. “He’s very personable, he connects well with employees, he’s an effective commander and he knows fire and EMS from the inside. Sunnyside Fire Department has benefitted from his contributions and Anacortes will as well.”