South King Fire & Rescue officials offered clarity at the Jan. 25 fire commissioners meeting on the recent decision to separate from Chief Vic Pennington.
“After consultation with Chief Pennington on the needs and direction of the fire district, we mutually agreed a change in leadership would be beneficial to both parties,” said Board Chair Bill Gates.
“[The] pandemic and vaccination mandate has taken its toll on the fire chief, employee morale and overall service delivery to the community.”
The fire district requires a “significant transformation to confront systemic challenges that have plagued us for years,” Gates said.
Pennington was prepared to take on these challenges upon his appointment in early 2020, Gates said, then the pandemic hit and presented new obstacles of higher priority.
“Pennington led us well through this pandemic and we thank him for his 40-plus years of service to this community … Now, we move forward,” Gates said.
The process for hiring a new chief has no official timeline, Gates said after the meeting.
With the appointment of Dave Mataftin as interim fire chief on Jan. 4, the next task is searching for a new chief of operations to fill his vacancy, Gates said.
“Our first thing we need to do is get an operations chief,” he said. “We’ll look at candidates inside and outside … Once we see who we get there, there’s a possibility down the road that [operations] chief could become the fire chief.”
The search for an operations chief may also include looking at candidates in Idaho, Oregon and Montana as well as in Washington.
With limited staff, Gates said, finding an in-house appointment from the fire administration side was between Mataftin and Assistant Chief Rick Chaney. Chaney interviewed for the fire chief position alongside Mataftin and Pennington in Dec. 2019.
Mataftin is a good fit due to his decades of experience with the department, holding every rank along the way, Gates said. Over the past few years, Mataftin was tasked with spending the department’s bond funds of $4.8 million.
In his three weeks so far as interim chief, “we’ve already identified several long-standing issues that are being addressed with a renewed effort on transparency going forward,” Mataftin said during the meeting.
The Mirror has repeatedly requested information about any increase to Mataftin’s pay during his interim period. Mataftin’s salary was $188,112.36 in 2021, according to a records request obtained by the Mirror.
A hierarchical change, an organized health assessment and a new strategy for financial planning will help “correct and alter” the direction of South King Fire, he said.
“I think we’re in a rebuilding period right now,” he said.
Chief Vic Pennington spoke at the meeting for the first time since the leadership change announcement. He thanked the board of commissioners, the residents of the fire district, and all of the department members, noting his gratitude for their support.
“It’s the team that has done the heavy lifting,” he said.
Pennington’s final day with South King Fire is Jan. 31.
“You’ve been through the best part of my life with me,” he said. “It’s an incredible honor to be part of this family … Thank you for 47 years of one heck of a ride. It’s been an adventure.”