Lynnwood fire chief steps down after decades of service in firefighting

LYNNWOOD — He never worked a day in his life.

That’s how longtime Lynnwood Fire Chief Gary Olson wants to remember his years in the fire service.

Olson found what he loved, and he worked with great people, he said. He didn’t consider it work.

Olson announced his retirement last month. Olson and his wife left shortly after the announcement for a long-planned trip to China.

Olson started as a firefighter in Lynnwood in 1996 and became fire chief in 2003. He was interim chief about a year before that and spent decades in the fire service in Lynnwood and elsewhere.

Olson retired this fall for two reasons, he said. He hoped city leaders could avoid cutting fire department staff if they weren’t paying his salary.

He also turned 70 in July. It was time for the younger people at the department to take over and identify their leadership, he said.

“Those people are the future of the fire service,” he said. “I’m the history. So I will move on.”

The Lynnwood Fire Department faces an uncertain future.

Mayor Don Gough announced in October that assistant fire chiefs will rotate as interim chief until early 2013. The city is waiting to make a hiring decision on the chief’s position until then.

Some city officials are leaning toward the idea of forming a regional fire authority in south Snohomish County.

Olson was an admirable leader during difficult times, Lynnwood Police Chief Steve Jensen said.

“He has been a pleasure to work with in all matters pertaining to public safety in Lynnwood and will be missed,” Jensen said.

Interim Fire Chief Greg Macke described Olson as a kind chief who knew everything about the fire service.

Olson always asked the rank-and-file about their lives, Macke said.

“He was just one of those people you hope to work for someday,” Macke said.

For Olson, being fire chief reinforced the lessons he learned in high-school football, he said. It reminded him how much each individual contributes to an organization.

Olson now looks forward to traveling the world and seeing how the fire department progresses.

“This is a quality department that’s equal to none,” he said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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