Everett fire chief: 911 calls ‘burning through human capital’

Newly appointed Dave DeMarco, 47, is considering changes to how emergency services are deployed.

Dave DeMarco

Dave DeMarco

EVERETT — At first, firefighting was supposed to be a side job, to help Dave DeMarco pay for his computer science classes at the University of Washington.

He was drawn to the monthly stipend, but he found himself among people he looked up to, he said.

In 1994, he heard the Everett Fire Department was hiring. He quit school for the opportunity to work in a place “just big enough.”

Last month, he was named fire chief.

DeMarco, 47, grew up in Marysville and graduated from Marysville Pilchuck High School. His father was in the U.S. Navy and later worked as an insurance agent. His mother taught kindergarten for nearly 40 years.

Today he makes his home in Tulalip with his son, a student at Everett Community College. DeMarco later finished his college degree in social sciences, online through Washington State University and also earned a master’s degree.

Most recently, he served as Everett’s interim assistant chief of operations. The new job pays $170,460 a year.

DeMarco is believed to be the first Everett fire chief in recent memory who was chosen from an applicant pool that included outside candidates. He is bringing the same system to selecting his leadership team, and he hopes to announce names by the end of the summer, he said.

Meanwhile, Everett faces the same challenges as fire departments around Snohomish County.

Calls to 911 are more numerous than ever, and local governments can’t spend all their resources on public safety. That balancing act has been a point of tension in the city in recent years, though the new mayor, Cassie Franklin, and the union agree the relationship is improving.

For decades, the Everett Fire Department has sent crews immediately to every 911 call about medical issues, and that’s not sustainable, DeMarco said. He knows that in part from working as a paramedic from 1998 to 2008. He kept that certification active until last year.

The call load is “burning through human capital, and it’s burning through physical capital,” he said.

He’d like to see if some of the less serious incidents could be routed into a nurse line, or even a queue, similar to what’s used by police. Someone in cardiac arrest would get an immediate response, while the wait might be longer for “aches and pains.”

Other fire departments have been experimenting with the model, but Everett could be the first in Snohomish County and possibly Washington state, he said.

DeMarco decided to apply for the chief’s post after getting to know Franklin.

“Her approach is the same as mine,” he said. “She’s applying sound business principles … we’re open and transparent about what we can and can’t afford.”

In his free time, DeMarco tends to his fruit trees and acreage, and he logs miles — more than 45,000 so far — on his bicycle on the Centennial Trail.

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

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