On Tuesday evening, Redmond fire engines and medic trucks filled the parking lot at City Hall.
But the dozens of men and women crowding into the building’s lobby were not there for an emergency. They were there to see Kevin Donnelly being sworn in as the new chief for the Redmond Fire Department (RFD). The ceremony lasted only a few minutes and even though Donnelly has been through a similar event when he became chief for the fire department in Lodi, Calif., the event was no less significant for him.
“It’s still exciting,” Donnelly said.
The California transplant was selected after the city conducted a nationwide search for a new chief to replace Tim Fuller, who retired in January. Donnelly’s appointment was announced at the beginning of March.
His first trip to Redmond was in February when he — along with three other candidates — came up for on-site interviews. Donnelly said he was very impressed with the city and as an outdoor enthusiast, enjoyed the area’s clean air and outdoor spaces, saying they were very inviting.
Coming from California’s Central Valley, the Pacific Northwest’s natural environment was one of the reasons Donnelly and his wife, Cathy Donnelly, identified the area as somewhere they would like to move to for their next stage in life. The fact that RFD had an open chief position was serendipitous.
“It fell right into our spoon,” Kevin said. “Call it what you want, but it was very timely.”
As of Saturday, the Donnellys are living in downtown Redmond, but Cathy said a lot of their things are still in transit at the moment.
Although he was sworn in on Tuesday, Kevin’s first day on the job was Monday. He said for now, much of his schedule will consist of “lots of meetings.” He plans to meet with people in the RFD, throughout the city as well as other fire departments in the area. Kevin said once he begins meeting people, he’ll be able to get a better feel for the department and city, allowing him to create a clearer vision of where he wants to take the RFD.
“It’s a very dynamic department with a lot of things going on,” he said.
Kevin’s first opportunity to meet with firefighters came right after his swearing-in ceremony — although it was in a more informal setting. The Redmond Firefighters’ Union (RFU) hosted a reception following the ceremony, where Kevin received many warm welcomes and offers of congratulations — a number of which were from firefighters who had to return to their respective fire stations.
Melissa Irish, a lieutenant for RFD, was in attendance and said when she first met him during a meet and greet in February, Kevin made a very good impression.
“I liked him,” she said.
After 18 years with RFD, one of the things Irish looks for in a chief is a good communicator. So she takes the fact that Kevin is easy to talk to as a good sign.
Irish added that with Fuller’s retirement and Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson and Deputy City Manager Jane Christenson splitting duties as interim fire chief, the department has been in a period of transition. Now that Kevin is here, Irish is looking forward to having steady leadership.
Like Irish, Mark Donnell first met Kevin in February. The RFU president was “pleasantly surprised” to see that Kevin, at 54, was around his own age. Donnell said with Kevin being younger than Fuller when he was chief, they won’t have to worry too much about a retirement any time soon.
Donnell added that the new chief has already displayed good leadership with the department’s search for two new deputy chiefs. Donnell said Kevin could have made the selection based on the information they sent him and their recommendations, but Kevin wanted to wait to meet the candidates in person versus on paper before deciding.
While Kevin is working to make a good impression, Donnell said the department is doing the same. He said it’s “really important” for Kevin to be comfortable in his new department.
And so far, Kevin has received a very positive vibe from both city employees as well the community.
“I’m very happy to be here,” he said.