With nearly 40 years of service behind him, Assistant Fire Chief Ed Plumlee will be retiring from South King Fire and Rescue at the end of the month.
The work he has done to make the greater Federal Way area as safe as possible will live on, however.
“I’ve loved it. It’s been a great career,” Plumlee said. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Going from the fire world into the medic world and back into the fire world has really been a unique experience. It was fun.”
Plumlee joined South King Fire and Rescue, then known as the Federal Way Fire Department, in 2001 after serving King County Medic One for about 20 years. Having worked as the fire department’s emergency medical services instructor, he was already a “known commodity,” which positioned him well for the medical services officer role he assumed.
“I was really kind of looking for an experience where I could concentrate more locally,” he said. “… Community was a big deal to me.”
That was reflected in his service work. By 2002, Plumlee was the president of Kiwanis Club of Federal Way and had helped launch the very successful “Project Jean,” a fundraising campaign to outfit schools with automated external defibrillators after the death of Thomas Jefferson High School athlete Jean Sanson at a swim meet in September 2000. Sanson had just finished her event at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines when she collapsed. Firefighters later learned she had ventricular fibrillation, a cardiac rhythm abnormality that can lead to a heart attack.
“I thought it was something important to do something about,” Plumlee said, noting that he plans to continue volunteering with Kiwanis Club, serving as current president.
Through a structure change, Plumlee worked in a health and wellness training position with South King Fire and Rescue and eventually landed the operations chief title. He worked in that department for nearly seven years. In January 2014, he became a fire marshal, managing fleet facilities and logistics. When the fire district bond was passed in 2015, he then focused solely on fleet facilities and bond projects as the assistant fire chief.
“I’ve been buying rigs and designing facilities and getting the bids and all the things in place to start that project,” he said about the projects the bond funds.
South King Fire and Rescue Chief Al Church said it has been a pleasure working with Plumlee, who he described as being very dedicated to the department and community.
“I have worked with Ed for a long time, first, when he was a paramedic with Medic One while I was a firefighter/officer with Federal Way, and then when we hired him away from King County in 2001 to join our administrative team,” Church said.
Church said Plumlee is a good friend and he will be missed but that he has certainly earned his retirement.
Although he is far from haunted, Plumlee said he will never forget certain cases he encountered while working with South King Fire and Rescue.
“Probably the lowest moment here was when firefighter Wynn Loyland was hit on the freeway,” Plumlee recalled.
Loyland was responding to an abandoned vehicle on Interstate 5 near South 284th Street when a car drove backward into the work zone, critically injuring him on Nov. 20, 2011. Although Loyland survived, he suffered a head injury that amounted to a long recovery and a “catastrophic disability” payout from the state.
Plumlee said Loyland was a wonderful firefighter who was forced to retire.
“He was the kind of guy who would go into the house, and if it was an aid call, he’d go out and make sure all the cords were good and all the sockets were safe, and they didn’t have heaters plugged in where they shouldn’t have,” Plumlee said. “He did safety checks when he went into houses. In my mind, that’s the epitome of a firefighter, is when they look at the whole situation.”
Plumlee remembers the good times, too. He said one of his most memorable rescues was the Crystal Pointe Apartments fire in December 2008. Seven people were trapped on the second and third floors of the apartment building, but firefighters acted quickly, bringing up ladders to the windows and saving them all.
“We saved some lives that night,” Plumlee said. “Those sorts of things, while they don’t happen that often, they still do happen. … Everything came together operationally to have a real successful outcome, which is very heartening.”
While Plumlee spent a significant portion of his career as a paramedic, he dreamt of being a firefighter as a child.
“I didn’t have any doubt in my mind what I was going to do, it was just a matter of the path to get there,” he said.
Plumlee’s uncle was the fire chief in Silverdale and was a man whom he respected and regarded as a “good example of what to do.”
Plumlee’s aspirations led him to volunteer as a firefighter for the Burien Fire Department for five years before being hired as a paid firefighter.
In 1979, he was hired at the newly-formed King County Medical Program and went through a year’s worth of training at Harborview Medical Center, where, he said, the training was minimal but produced a high skill set.
“It was really intense in a certain area, and we were given a lot of responsibility to come up with plans and communicate those to the physicians and carry out medical plans in the field,” he said, adding he believes the work of Medic One paramedics improved hospitals in King County. “… You’re now presenting patients who otherwise would have perished. They would have died at the scene, and now you’re coming to the hospitals with them, and I think they really had to ramp up their level of care. It really pressed the region to be be better, medically, all over.”
Aside from working on home projects and spending time with his family, Plumlee’s retirement plans involve spring training and maybe a trip to Machu Picchu or the Galapagos Islands.
“Really, whatever I want to do …,” he said.