Snohomish County fire chief marks three decades fighting fires

CLEARVIEW — Early one morning in 1993, Snohomish County Fire District 7 Chief Rick Eastman put on his best blue uniform.

The stripes and stars on the sleeve and the brass buttons were a ploy to unsettle notorious serial arsonist Paul Keller moments after his arrest.

Eastman shook Keller’s hand and led him into a room where Keller confessed to starting more than 70 blazes in four Washington counties.

About 16 years later, on Thursday, Eastman wore the same stripes, stars and shiny buttons.

This time, it was Eastman’s turn for a surprise. He didn’t know that dozens of firefighters and Snohomish County fire service officials had gathered to celebrate his 30 years of service.

“It’s been an honor,” Eastman, 59, said. “It’s just been a pleasure working here.”

On Feb. 12, 1979, Eastman became the second career chief for District 7, which was then a small, rural fire department. He oversaw three professional firefighters and a team of volunteers.

Today, there are nearly 100 full-time firefighters and paramedics in seven fire stations. The district serves around 50,000 people in a 50-square-mile area from Mill Creek east to Maltby.

He’s helped fight some of the biggest fires in the county, including the 2008 Street of Dreams blaze and the inferno that destroyed a Snohomish cannery in the early 1980s.

Now, Eastman is spearheading an effort to build a 50-acre training center for police and fire officials near Echo Lake.

“What do you say about someone who has chosen to spend his life as a public servant?” commission chairman Roy Waugh said of Eastman on Thursday. “It makes me proud to put on a shirt that says I’m a commissioner with Fire District 7.”

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