After 40 years in fire service, South County chief retires

Bruce Stedman responded to the L.A. riots and the Oso mudslide. Now he’ll focus on health and family.

Bruce Stedman, the first chief of South County Fire.

Bruce Stedman, the first chief of South County Fire.

LYNNWOOD — Bruce Stedman has been in the firefighting business for more than four decades.

He’s played parts during the L.A. Riots and the Oso mudslide, having led fire departments in California and Snohomish County.

In a two-year-stint as public safety director, he was tasked with overhauling the Arlington Police Department.

And most recently, he was the first chief of the newly formed South County Fire, which merged Fire District 1 and the Lynnwood Fire Department on Oct. 1, 2017.

The regional authority is Snohomish County’s largest provider of fire and emergency medical services, staffing 14 stations and serving more than 250,000 residents in Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated south Snohomish County.

Now, Stedman is hanging up the helmet. South County Fire announced on Wednesday that he will be taking medical leave, effective immediately.

Stedman said Thursday that he’s retiring for good.

“My focus moving forward is getting my health right and spending time with my wife,” he said.

In a statement, South County Fire board chairman Jim Kenny thanked Stedman for helping establish the new organization.

“Chief Stedman’s efforts have improved our service delivery to the community and positioned us as leaders in the local emergency response industry,” he said.

As the new authority’s first chief, Stedman was responsible for bringing two agencies together.

It hasn’t been easy, he said. Firefighters had different shift schedules, salaries and benefits. And they had little experience working with one another.

One of his first moves was to get them working on the same clock, he said. The next was to move firefighters to different stations, so they would be forced to mingle with people they haven’t worked with before.

He said his goal was to “get the culture right.”

Not everything’s been tied up neatly, though. After 18 months of negotiations with unions, personnel from the two former agencies still don’t have a uniform contract, he said.

“It’s going to be decided by an arbitrator,” he said.

Reflecting on his his career, Stedman said he was proud of the educational opportunities he’s helped foster.

At South County Fire, he was part of conversations that led to the new Snohomish County fire academy, allowing new recruits to train closer to home, instead of having to go to North Bend.

He also played a part in jump-starting a new paramedic training program, which could start next April.

Stedman said he also made a priority to encourage professional development within his ranks.

One idea he came up with: Assign homework.

Now, when someone is promoted to battalion chief, they have to complete a research project and present it to leadership. It’s a way to find new ways to improve the agency, he said.

He got the idea from visiting the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program in San Diego. You might know it better as TOPGUN, the school featured in the movie of the same name starring Tom Cruise.

Stedman said every firefighter should have a clear path to move up the ranks. That includes his second-in-command, assistant chief of operations Doug Dahl, who will now serve as acting fire chief.

Dahl has been working as a firefighter in South Snohomish County since 1989, when he joined the Edmonds Fire Department. As part of a state inter-agency incident management team, he’s been deployed to out-of-state wildland fires and disasters, such as Hurricane Michael in Florida.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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