Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror 
Driver Engineer John Fontana aboard Marine 367 on his final day with South King Fire.

Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror Driver Engineer John Fontana aboard Marine 367 on his final day with South King Fire.

One last ride: Longtime firefighter, marine team member retires from South King Fire and Rescue

Driver Engineer John Fontana recently retired after more than 35 years of serving the Des Moines and Federal Way communities.

Driver Engineer John Fontana’s final day before retirement started out similar to any other day of his previous 35-and-a-half years with South King Fire and Rescue.

Fontana, who has been a member of the fire district’s Marine Team since its inception, boarded the new fire boat at the Des Moines Marina, slipped on a life jacket, and smiled from behind the helm.

The Marine 367 vessel, “Zenith,” is the reason for the additional six months tacked onto Fontana’s career. Though he was planning to retire in November 2021, he couldn’t leave before seeing the new-and-improved fire boat.

“That was my goal, I was going to [retire] last year, but that’s when the department secured the funding … I stretched it out to this,” he said.

Fontana’s career started in January 1988 with what was previously the King County Fire District #26 in Des Moines. Then, the fire district merged with Federal Way Fire Department to create South King Fire and Rescue.

He was one of the first firefighters to operate the first fire boat, along with just a handful of others originally from the Des Moines district. As plans and designs for the new vessel took shape, Fontana acted as a consultant for Fire Chief Dave Mataftin to bounce ideas or suggestions off of, given his decades of time spent with the watercraft.

“Always a positive force in the department, John will be missed by many, including me,” said Mataftin, adding that Fontana is the definition of what it means to be a firefighter. “I have the deepest respect for him as a person, and coming to know his family is special to me as well. John’s retirement is well-deserved. His gain is South King’s loss.”

This spring, Fontana is one of the first crew members to drive the new boat, which also gave him a few extra months with his firehouse family, he said.

“I was fortunate to have a good crew throughout my whole career,” he said. “That’s the part that I’ll miss. It’s the camaraderie and the firehouse life and sitting around the table, solving all of the world’s problems.”

Leaving the department with a respected legacy, and an unofficial title as firehouse chef, Fontana said it’s a good time for him to go.

Cruising up the Puget Sound on a May afternoon in the fire boat, Fontana passes the shorelines where he spent years helping people on those very roads, in those homes, and in those neighborhoods.

“It’s pretty cool,” Fontana said of driving the new vessel. “It’s a good feeling.”

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@federalwaymirror.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.federalwaymirror.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

File Photo
Data released on fireworks-related injuries in Washington

Last year fireworks caused $122,000 in damage.

Mediterranean Gyro Grill owner Jay Barbour, right, and his restaurant manager pictured at the Taste of Federal Way in 2019. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
Federal Way restaurant owner shot in NE Tacoma road rage incident

Mediterranean Gyro Grill owner Jay Barbour, 45, was shot in the spine; one suspect facing charges.

File photo
Boy robbed, shot near Steel Lake Park | Federal Way Police Blotter

The following is a sample from the Federal Way police log June 22-28.

Seattle Shakespeare Company photo
Summer sounds at Steel Lake Park

Upcoming free concerts and a Shakespeare play.

Photo by Bruce Honda
Here’s your go-to guide for the Red, White & Blues festival in Federal Way

The festival begins at 4 p.m. at Celebration Park.

Dr. Faisal Khan. Courtesy of King County.
Dr. Faisal Khan appointed as next King County health director

Dennis Worsham will continue to serve as interim director until September 6.

Runners cross the finish line during the annual Miles for Meso 5k on July 4 in years past. File photo
Miles for Meso 5K run/walk returns for 11th year

The running, walking, wheelchair, youth and virtual races are held Monday, July 4.

Well-Fed from the Federal Way Farmers Market: Festive berry cake

A fruity dessert to make this Fourth of July holiday.

Renton spa employee accused of trying to coerce woman into prostitution, posing nude

Quyen T. Nguyen, 39, has been accused of attempted promotion of prostitution… Continue reading

Most Read