Chief to retire after more questions about an old fire truck

Paine Field Fire Chief Jeff Bohnet was investigated after he acquired dismantled 1977 truck’s chassis.

EVERETT — Paine Field Fire Chief Jeff Bohnet gave notice Dec. 1, saying, “It is time for a new set of eyes in the fire department.”

At the time, he was under a criminal investigation, according to records obtained by The Daily Herald. Detectives were looking into how the chief came into possession of a piece of an old Snohomish County fire truck.

On Wednesday, investigators notified Bohnet’s bosses that he doesn’t seem to have broken any laws. No criminal charges were recommended. However, questions remain about whether county policies were violated. Bohnet still is on the job.

The truck’s frame, also called a chassis, had been sold through an auction company in March for $85. The buyer was Bohnet’s next-door neighbor, who apparently gave it to the chief.

Witnesses said Bohnet had talked about a plan to turn the chassis into a bridge for a property he owns outside of Cle Elum.

This all might sound familiar. It is not the first time the remains of that same lime green 1977 fire truck have caused headaches for Bohnet’s bosses.

An airport mechanic got in trouble for removing the truck’s engine in November 2015 and selling it for scrap. When detectives got involved, Bohnet got in their way. He interrupted their interviews and complained to their chain of command about the questions. No charges were filed in that case, either.

After the engine incident, Airport Director Arif Ghouse said he talked to employees about the lessons learned, and everyone was reminded of the rules governing surplus equipment. The county code says employees cannot “directly or indirectly” become the owners of former county property.

This week, Ghouse would not say whether an internal review is planned.

“We will be examining our options,” he said.

Bohnet’s resignation letter said he plans to retire, effective Dec. 15. He wrote that he hoped to take his last two weeks as vacation time.

“We needed him to help with the transition, and therefore he is currently at work,” said Kent Patton, a spokesman for the county executive’s office.

Bohnet, 65, has worked at Paine Field since 2003. He manages a team of eight firefighters. He is paid an annual salary of $112,659. He previously worked at the Mukilteo Fire Department for more than a decade.

Bohnet’s supervisor, the deputy airport director, will oversee the fire department until a new chief is hired, Ghouse said. It has not been decided whether an interim chief will be appointed.

Bohnet owns a home in Mukilteo. He also has three acres of vacant land in a gated community near Cle Elum, according to public records. That is where the chassis reportedly was stored.

The investigation was conducted by a Washington State Patrol detective assigned to the Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force. The task force handled both cases at the airport, because of its expertise in vehicles and parts, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

Records show that when the old fire truck had been dismantled, Bohnet told the workers to be careful about removing the chassis without damaging it.

County employees logged about 60 hours of labor on that task.

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

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