North Whatcom fire district hires new chief

Published on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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After considering 21 applicants over three months of deliberation, North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) commissioners have chosen a new fire chief.

NWFR commissioners selected Ron Anderson, the former fire chief of the Meridian, Idaho, fire department. Anderson said he started applying for fire chief positions in Washington and Oregon after retirement in 2010 did not turn out exactly as he had pictured.

“I thought I was going to be happy in retirement, but I figured out I wasn’t ready. I was too young,” Anderson said.

Anderson comes from a fire department a third the size of NWFR, but with more than three times the population. NWFR serves 25,000 residents over a 147-square-mile area while the Meridian fire department serves about 86,000 people in 54 square miles. Approximately 170 people live in each square mile of NWFR’s coverage area, while the Meridian fire department hosts 1,594 people per square mile.

Anderson said managing the district will be more challenging than running the Meridian fire department. He said NWFR seems to be doing a good job connecting to its far-flung residents by having stations spread out across western Whatcom County.
“[NWFR is] trying to become more entwined in the fabric of the communities,” Anderson said.

Another difference between the two fire service areas is that the Meridian fire department serves the city of Meridian and its outlying areas, while NWFR covers the city of Blaine and two unincorporated communities: Birch Bay and Custer. Anderson said he will have to deal with more countywide issues as the NWFR fire chief than he did during his service in Meridian.

As of the 2010 census, Birch Bay is the second fastest growing community in Whatcom County, but Anderson said he has had experience with growth issues. The city of Meridian grew from 9,000 people to 60,000 in a 10-year period, requiring the Meridian fire department to build five new fire stations under Anderson’s leadership.

NWFR is similar to the Meridian fire department in one more important aspect: both operations manage volunteer and full-time firefighters. Anderson said his beginnings in the volunteer fire service helped him understand how volunteer and career firefighters interact.

After he graduated from high school in Meridian, he joined a small volunteer department near Boise while working as a
construction worker. When the construction business went downhill in the 1970s, Anderson started testing for paid firefighter positions and got hired at the Nampa, Idaho, fire department, where he served for 24 years.

Anderson volunteered at the Meridian fire department while employed at Nampa, then eventually switched to a paid position at Meridian. He became the chief there in 2005 and retired in 2010.

With a start date of May 1, Anderson said he is looking forward to beginning another chapter of fire service.

“I’m just excited to get up here and go to work,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Ron Anderson