Dr. Allen Church is a household name in the local first responder community.
The longtime South King Fire and Rescue chief — who dedicated nearly 42 years of service to Federal Way — celebrated his retirement with members of the Federal Way, Des Moines and greater King County communities last week.
Station 62’s engine bay filled with approximately 90 attendees on Friday, Nov. 8 to recognize Church’s retirement, which officially goes into effect on the first of the new year. Chief Vic Pennington will take over as the department’s top command Jan. 1, 2020.
Attendees included South King Fire and Rescue board of commissioners and department employees, SKFR Honor Guard, city leaders, first responder branch partners, community members and family, both relationally and professionally — many of whom referred to Church as a friend.
How you spend your time is ultimately how you spend your life, noted Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.
“Al has spent his time and his life with us in this community,” he said.
Church has been a foundational leader in the community with intentional and thoughtful actions made with the constituents in mind, Ferrell said.
Next week, Church will be presented with the Key to the City at the Federal Way City Council meeting held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
“It is quite an honor for the city to recognize my nearly 42 years of service within the community,” Church told the Mirror.
Church will be the 13th recipient of the Key to the City.
“It’s the highest award we can give in the city and you deserve that,” Ferrell said. “It’s been an honor to work with you.”
The ceremonial passing of authority aired bittersweet, evident in words spoken by friends, coworkers and peers last Friday afternoon.
“It’s one of those days you’d hoped would never come,” said SKFR board chair Bill Gates. On behalf of the board, Gates commended Church for his “stellar and outstanding” performance and dedication to ethics.
“We both decided it was in our best interest to marry our high school sweethearts,” Gates said, smiling at Church’s wife Sue and inviting her to the front of the room. “I want to thank you for a couple things.”
The fire service is a profession that requires major sacrifice from families, Gates said. Although Church initially planned to retire at the beginning of 2019, the department and board convinced him to stay another year, which Gates thanked Sue for allowing Church to spend another year with SKFR.
Church’s leadership was a common theme acknowledged throughout Friday’s celebrations.
“I’ve been impressed with his leadership as the department weathered attacks from the inside and outside, economic downturns, and the loss of our loved ones and friends,” said IAFF Local 2024 President Layne Winter.
Church created a family-first atmosphere within the department, meaning members are encouraged to care for their families and themselves first as Church always reassured “the fire department will still be here when you get back,” Winter noted.
Michele Plorde, director of King County EMS/Medic One, said she doesn’t remember a time where Church wasn’t a presence in the local first responder community.
A friend of Plorde’s told her in the beginning of her career: “Al is the one to trust,” she recalled.
Church received a few parting gifts, including being pinned as an honorary citizen of Des Moines by Mayor Matt Pina, who commended the chief for the reputable department he’s built during his reign.
“Leadership is about leaving a legacy,” said Federal Way police Chief Andy Hwang. “… What made him a great fire chief is that he is a good man; he has a good heart.”