After nearly eight hours of interviews and deliberation, South King Fire and Rescue’s Board of Fire Commissioners offered the position of fire chief to current Assistant Chief Vic Pennington on Tuesday evening.
Pennington, who is currently the deputy mayor of the city of Des Moines, brings more than 44 years of experience in the fire service, with the last 12 served with SKFR. As assistant chief, Pennington has directly worked with current fire chief Dr. Allen Church for the last two years.
With than 41 years of paid career fire service in the Federal Way and Des Moines areas, Church announced his retirement from South King on Jan. 1.
Church was hired by Federal Way Fire in 1978 and has “held every possible rank along the way,” he wrote in his resignation letter on Jan. 1. His final day of service will be Dec. 31, 2019.
Pennington was interviewed for the position against two other internal candidates, Deputy Chief Dave Mataftin and Assistant Chief Rick Chaney.
Mataftin has been in the fire service for more than 38 years, entering the fire service at just 15 years of age following in his father’s footsteps. In 2017, Mataftin became deputy chief of fleet and facilities until January 2019. He now oversees bonds, and administration of construction and contracts.
Chaney brings 40 years of combined experience in the fire service to South King. He became a resident volunteer firefighter in July 16, 1979 — which also happened to be his birthday. Chaney became the assistant chief of training for SKFR in January 2017.
The public special board of commissioners meeting commenced around 9 a.m. on Feb. 26 at Station 68. The decision to offer Pennington the position was announced at 5 p.m.
“The day after [the offer of employment as fire chief] has just been having reality set in,” Pennington told the Mirror. “There’s a lot of things to do and consider. Personally, it’s a life-changing event … nothing I didn’t expect.”
Pennington has been in the service for more than 44 years, beginning at the age of 16 as a volunteer apprentice, and has worked through all of the ranks of the fire service, he said.
“The communities that I serve are communities that have provided for me and my family for my entire adult life.”
Pennington referred to the interview process as a long but “ an appropriate process,” adding he spent about a month preparing for the interview and that he “enjoyed going through it.”
Pennington is the current assistant chief of operations and acting fire chief for South King Fire & Rescue. He was appointed to this position by Church in 2017.
The fire chief is a direct employee of the Board of Fire Commissioners, employed by decision of the board.
His time learning from Church — and acting as fire chief in Church’s absences — served as a major help in his preparation for this new role, Pennington said.
Until 2020, he hopes to bridge the delta between his assistant chief and fire chief roles.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to the chief’s job,” Pennington said. “Everything from budgeting to large personnel issues to community engagement and involvement, and my hope is to really absorb a little bit of all of that,” he said about his next 10 months of mentorship alongside Church.
Upon announcing the offer of fire chief to Pennington, commissioner Bill Fuller said it was not an easy decision to make.
“As you know, we chose to go internal,” Fuller said about candidate selection. “Going external would’ve taken a long time …”
As the board members gave their comments of praise and thanks to all candidates for their courage to try for the position, commissioner John Rickert said: “I’m glad that we are able to find somebody inside the department so that we didn’t have to go out because of your capabilities.”
Chairman Bill Gates after the meeting told the Mirror there was no “time crunch” for the board to make this decision as Church is still fire chief for 10 more months.
Within the next 10 months, Pennington also has a big decision to make about his current status of deputy mayor of the city of Des Moines.
“There’s a lot of things I’ve got to kick around, so I haven’t really made my mind up on what I’m going to do with that elected position,” he said.
South King Fire and Rescue serves the cities of Federal Way and Des Moines, as well as unincorporated King County.
Pennington will not take over position of fire chief until 2020 and as the fire chief start date nears, he said he will “have to take a look at what that means for me personally.”
In his current role as deputy mayor, Pennington said he recuses himself from any matters that arise concerning the fire district.
“We’ll have to see in this [new] role what that means in terms of any conflicts of interest,” he said. “I’m very sensitive to that and want to make sure that either one of the agencies doesn’t have an issue.”
Pennington offered his most sincere heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to give back to the community as fire chief.
“My door is open. I believe in community engagement and community involvement,” he said. “We’re going to continue to serve [these communities] to the best that we can and try to meet their needs the best that we can. I look forward to this opportunity and it’s truly a privilege to be their fire chief.”