After 40 years as a firefighter, Tim Fuller is bidding farewell to a career he never intended to pursue.
On Monday, he retired from the Redmond Fire Department, where he had been fire chief since 2005. Before coming to Redmond, Fuller spent more than three decades in various positions — including 12 years as chief — with the fire department in St. Paul, Minn.
Not bad for a man who took the written test to become a firefighter as a way to pass the time.
“I was trying to figure out how I was going to make enough money to pay for school,” he said.
Fuller had spent two years in the army and when he left in 1970, he wasn’t sure what his next step would be. He was considering medical school, but coming from a middle class family, financing his education was a major obstacle.
Two of his friends planned on taking the written test to become firefighters and Fuller decided to take it with them. From there, he’s never looked back.
“It’s the best thing I ever did,” he said.
Fuller joined the St. Paul Fire Department in 1971. He became fire chief in 1991 and retired from the department in 2003. He and his wife Martha moved to the Northwest in July 2004 when she became the chief financial officer for the Seattle Seahawks.
One of Fuller’s new neighbors in their Seattle condominium building was a former colleague of the City of Redmond’s human resources director Kerry Sievers. The neighbor told him Redmond was searching for a new fire chief and suggested Fuller send in his resume.
Sievers said they had gone through two recruitment cycles and still hadn’t found a chief. When she met with Fuller, she was very impressed. He was articulate, understood the issues the city was facing and understood what they were looking for in a chief. Fuller’s years of experience were also impressive.
“His background was very strong,” Sievers said. “We thought he was very impressive.”
The initial meetings and interview process began during the 2004 holiday season. Fuller became Redmond’s fire chief in February 2005.
Because he had been retired, Fuller was able to reflect on his career in St. Paul, which has a fire department about four times bigger than Redmond’s. He felt he could take what he learned then and apply those lessons to Redmond.
Redmond Fire Captain Tom Langton has been with the department since 1990 and has worked for five chiefs, including Fuller, and a number of interim chiefs. Langton said one of the things Fuller has brought to the department was a more collaborative work environment. On projects, Fuller utilized people’s skills outside of firefighting to empower them as well as get them more involved in the department.
For example, Fuller set the parameters for the new Fire Station 17, but left the details to the on-line firefighters who are driving the trucks.
“That’s a radical new approach,” said Langton, who is part of the team working on the new station. “You get a lot more enthusiasm (from firefighters). You get a lot more involved…and given the diversity of the backgrounds, you get a more efficient project.”
He said more eyes looking at the project means fewer things to be overlooked, adding that the firefighters’ backgrounds include architecture, construction, plumbing and electrical work.
Having joined the department four years ago, Fuller is the only chief firefighter Shannon Norman has worked with. She said as a new firefighter, Fuller was very approachable. Norman often saw him around the stations, stopping by just to say hi. This combined with his open-door policy was very welcoming for Norman.
“As a new person, I felt very comfortable,” she said.
While the search for a new chief is still underway, Norman hopes Fuller’s replacement keeps an open-door policy and works to get to know the firefighters who are on line. She added that whoever comes along will have their work cut out for them.
“They’ll be big shoes to fill,” she said. “(Fuller) will be missed.”
City of Redmond Mayor John Marchione agrees. He said he hopes the new chief will pick up where Fuller left off upon retirement.
“Chief Fuller has set the department on a path to greater accountability to the community we serve and the rest of the City organization, and it is my intent to seek a chief who will continue us on this path,” Marchione said. “His tenure as chief marked a new and positive chapter in our working together to serve the citizens of Redmond.”
Now that he is retired, the 62-year-old Fuller will be moving to Florida. His wife is now the chief financial officer for the Tampa Bay Lightning and has been down there since December. Fuller will join her later this month.
He plans to explore the area since he is not very familiar with that part of the country adding that he enjoys bird watching and is looking forward to find out what kinds of species live in the Southeast.
Whatever he does to keep busy Fuller knows it will involve “trying to stay out of trouble.”