Chief Ganz retires after 38 year career

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Chief Ganz retires August 1.

The glue that holds Camano Island Fire and Rescue together — that’s how Chief Mike Ganz is described by retired Stanwood Mayor Dianne White. Yet, when Chief Ganz talks about the trials of bringing the District through the Great Recession, he is clear that the so-called “glue” of the District has been the “hand-in-hand” teamwork of the Administration and the Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners who hired him, and are now working to find his replacement as Chief, give high praise to the outgoing chief.

“The Chief has done a wonderful job. We have been through some really tough times, especially in the last couple years. I am proud of the department. I think we have done a real good job because of Mike’s work,” said Commissioner Pat Metz.

38 years in the fire service

Chief Ganz has spent 38 years in the fire service, including his time as a volunteer in the City of Kirkland fire department as a 20-year-old college student.

I took a ride on a Seattle medic unit in the mid 1970s and knew at that point that it was what I wanted to do.” He was hired by Bellevue’s Fire Department in 1977, and later went to medic school, training at Harborview for his paramedic certification. Promoted to Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief, the young medic firefighter worked his way up in leadership positions.  He worked later with the City of Redmond as deputy chief of operations, and then became Chief of Arlington’s fire department.

Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman said he sought out Chief Ganz for information and advice when he took the chief’s job in Arlington.

“He had the historical perspective,” said Chief Stedman, but Chief Ganz is also the “consummate professional. I think very highly of Mike.”

Changes at CIFR

Chief Ganz has spent the past nine years as Chief at Camano Island Fire and Rescue (CIFR). In that time, he helped implement a long-range capital facilities plan, passing bonds to meet construction standards for earthquake safety, integrating Emergency Medical Services into the Fire District, and doubling the size of the department’s paid firefighting staff.

He feels the District has weathered some big changes, as well as the financial storm of the Great Recession, and come out on top with a stable financial picture, improved infrastructure, and a good relationship between staff, administration, and the commission.

“He probably is the best chief we have ever had,” said CIFR Commissioner Steve Lich, who was on the commission that hired Chief Ganz. “We had a growth period there for awhile, and then economic disaster. And he managed the District through that economic downturn and managed to keep us on budget and give the community the best level of service possible.”

Commissioner Lich also commented on Chief Ganz as an individual. “He really is a good guy. He has hugely strong ethics. He cares not only about his personnel, but also about the public good, as well.”

The new chief, who is currently being sought through a search underway by Prothman Company,  will need to achieve the District goals for staffing while working with a new Commission (two members elected this year and the other three positions are up for election in 2015). Maintaining and funding apparatus repair will also represent a challenge.

“There are always challenges out there,” said Chief Ganz, referencing the possibilities of shorter response times. The infrastructure is there to house more crews, but the funding for increased staffing is not. “The next Chief and Commission will need to determine what mix of career and volunteer staffing makes economic sense for the community, with the ultimate goal of shorter response times.”

Despite the challenges, Chief Ganz said the District is a good one for a new Chief to inherit.

“We are financially stable,” said Chief Ganz. “We have made some real conservative budget decisions and worked hand in hand with our labor group; that’s a real statement of success that shouldn’t be overlooked. The island lost 20 percent of its assessed valuation in the last four years.”

Institutional Knowledge

Retired Mayor White came to her position as a new mayor of Stanwood in 2006 when CIFR held the contract for administration of the City’s fire service. Within three weeks the City experienced a major flood event. “I was a new mayor. What did I know?” said White.

Chief Ganz helped Stanwood walk through the emergency response system, working with the county’s Department of Emergency Management. White came to understand that being the last City in the line of a flood meant they had to be prepared to respond to the disaster with their own resources.

“We evacuated Josephine Sunset Home ourselves. The DEM was out of everything we needed. We had a post-event meeting and decided we had to take care of it ourselves. We can’t plan on anybody coming to help Stanwood because that’s the end of the river. Through Chief Ganz’s leadership, we prepared for that.”

But Chief Ganz later recommended maintaining the city’s contract with the DEM, even though other cities were canceling their own contracts. He reminded her that the DEM supplies helicopters and other equipment a city can’t afford.

“Chief Ganz has the institutional knowledge. The glue that has held (CIFR) together is Chief Ganz,” said White. Chief Ganz is confident a highly qualified individual will be found to replace him. Still, retired mayor White knows how much CIFR is losing.

“I think there will be a void,” said White. “They are losing a good guy.”

That sentiment is held by more than a few who have worked with Chief Ganz over the years. City of Arlington’s Mayor Barbara Tolbert, Arlington Fire Chief Stedman, and Murray Gordon, Chief at the City of Everett’s Fire Department.

Gordon described Chief Ganz as always calm — the kind of guy who would take the time to make the best decision.

“I have just been impressed with his ability to be very humble, and very approachable and very much engaged in all aspects of his role as a fire chief,” said Gordon, who has served with Chief Ganz through the Washington Fire Chiefs Association and in other capacities for over 30 years. “I would describe Mike as a quiet leader.”

Added Chief Stedman: “All the north county agencies will miss him and his professionalism.”

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