Practicing social distancing, the South King Fire Board commissioners (back row) and Chief Vic Pennington (front right) pose for a photo with the newest board appointee David Berger (front left) on Monday, March 23. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Practicing social distancing, the South King Fire Board commissioners (back row) and Chief Vic Pennington (front right) pose for a photo with the newest board appointee David Berger (front left) on Monday, March 23. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

South King Fire board appoints new commissioner

David Berger fills the position vacated by Jim Fossos last month; board members accelerating appointment amid COVID-19 virus outbreak.

The South King Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners selected a new member on Monday to fill the recent vacancy of former commissioner James Fossos, “accelerating” the 90-day appointment process window due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The four candidates who applied for the position were Keith Livingston, Tad Doviak, David Berger and Thomas Gates.

David Berger, of Federal Way, was offered the position of fire commissioner and took an oath of office Monday morning at a special board meeting.

Three candidates — Livingston, Doviak and Berger — interviewed before the fire board Monday morning at Station 68. Thomas Gates (no relation to chairman Bill Gates) was unable to make the meeting and the commissioners reviewed his application in lieu of an in-person interview.

Although the board had until May 29 to fill Fossos’ vacant seat, commissioner Mark Thompson highlighted the urgency for filling the position is due to the coronavirus pandemic and the looming rumor of a mandatory state lockdown.

“We originally planned to do this interview on Thursday, but with the possibility of a lockdown, we had to move it up,” Thompson said, noting the virus outbreak played a major decision in “accelerating” the process.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide stay-at-home mandate Monday evening, which discourages the public from leaving their homes unless for absolutely essential reasons.

In Monday’s interviews, commissioners asked each candidate how they would build strong community relationships, how they would increase diversity for the department to better reflect South King County demographics, thoughts on the current funding models and what they think the board’s goals should be to accomplish in the next three to five years.

Livingston, a Federal Way resident, spent 27 years as a public servant after attending Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and earning his master’s in parks and recreation administration from the University of North Texas. He worked for the city of Irving, Texas, as a Parks and Recreation and Environmental Services management analyst and a solid waste collections manager.

Livingston is the owner and artist of Keith Livingston Design and writes monthly for the Mirror as a freelance columnist.

Doviak is a current IT manager who grew up in the Federal Way area. He completed his master’s cyber security at the University of Washington-Tacoma; he has worked in IT for more than 20 years.

Doviak serves on the board of the Des Moines Police Foundation and is chairman of the school board at Holy Trinity Lutheran School. He’s also engaged in the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, and has founded several social media groups dedicated to helping the Des Moines community.

Berger, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of California Santa Barbara and a master’s in public administration from California State University East Bay, has worked nearly 30 years as a chief executive or CEO assistant in seven city governments, including serving as CEO of a fire protection district and two water districts in California.

He has served on Multi-Service Center’s board of directors for six years and the last two as board president, completed a four-year term as a South King County representative on the Sound Transit Citizens Oversight Board, held a mayor-appointed position on the Blue Ribbon Panel to evaluate the feasibility of the Performing Arts and Event Center, served eight years on Federal Way Parks and Recreation board holding both chairman and vice president positions, and served on the mayors Quiet and Healthy Skies Task Force. He currently serves as the Federal Way citizen representative of the state Congress department’s SeaTac Airport Technical Advisory.

Berger also noted his extensive work in planning and decision making, labor contracts and negotiations, emergency planning and operations, bond elections, community relations, capital projects and more.

When it comes to building strong community relationships, Berger commended the board for their community engagement and said the most important way is to “be out there as often as you can.”

As for goals, Berger said he wants to maintain the impressive strategic plan and make policy decisions that align to the plan. He also mentioned finding a way to expand the level of quality of service offered by the department to the residents, although it seems as if the board is already on the right track, especially with the recent hiring of a third social worker for the department’s CARES program.

Diversifying a workforce takes time, Berger said, but as commissioner, he would focus on hiring and implementing additional cultural sensitivity training.

“I saw in the strategic plan that you’re focused on trying to hire as many people as you can as firefighters from ethnic and racial and gender diversity … to try to represent the community more so that your culture eventually adapts to the cultures that we all have in the community,” he said. “That can then ripple up through the organization over time.”

When questioned about his thoughts on funding models, Berger explained the current health crisis proves service demands will only rise in the future.

South King Fire is one of the only departments in the area who does not collect service benefit charges, instead opting for voter-approved maintenance and operations levies.

Berger said it’s important to be very specific and honest with the voters about what will happen if a levy does not pass. He also suggested the department could look into a subscription service for ambulances, which would allow residents to pay a one-time fee on an annual basis for transport services rather than be charged after the need for an ambulance. On a legislative level, Berger discussed advocating at the state level for a higher 911 surcharge could be a benefit for fire districts.

While he has worked for 47 elected officials, he has not yet held an elected position, Berger shared.

“I do thoroughly understand the difference, the critically important difference, between being on a governing board and being responsible for policy and having to be able to share your responsibility in the organization, and being the CEO,” he said. “… I would be a commissioner, not trying to compete with the CEO.”

Berger will fulfill the remainder of commissioner Fossos’ term until re-election in 2022.

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