Brad Reading prepares for work at the state fire training academy in North Bend in 2004. He recently retired after a long and distinguished career serving south Snohomish County. (South Snohomish County Fire Rescue)

Brad Reading prepares for work at the state fire training academy in North Bend in 2004. He recently retired after a long and distinguished career serving south Snohomish County. (South Snohomish County Fire Rescue)

South county firefighter Brad Reading retires after 41 years

Reading led local fire departments through emergencies, conflicts and mergers.

EVERETT — Brad Reading always tried to bring everyone together.

In the politics of south Snohomish County, that often wasn’t easy.

Reading grew up in Lynnwood and graduated from Edmonds High School. He started as a volunteer firefighter in Edmonds and was hired full time in Mountlake Terrace. He went on to the former Fire District 1, which recently merged with Lynnwood. He retired Feb. 28, after 41 years.

Reading, 59, was a longtime leader for emergency responders across the region. After the Oso mudslide in 2014, he was put in charge of the first week of recovery. In the 1990s, he was part of the team that brought down serial arsonist Paul Keller, whose crimes were escalating into murders.

But much of his legacy involves being an administrator, an aspect of firefighting that doesn’t draw as much attention.

In Reading’s career, he’s seen the number of south county fire departments shrink through consolidations. These days, when someone calls 911, the closest fire rig is the one that responds. That wasn’t true decades ago, when city limits and other jurisdictional lines served as political boundaries.

“I believe in regionalization and working together,” Reading said. “We can accomplish a lot more in government when you work together.”

He played a role in the county’s recent merger of 911 centers. And he was one of those who shepherded the majority of the county’s police and firefighters onto the same dispatching software.

Accomplishments start small, he said. He’d get to know someone. He’d find common ground. Then, a reason to crack a joke or two.

Over the years, “political barriers started to break apart,” he said. “We eventually grew to the place that changing the system made sense.”

Reading applied the same philosophy to his work after the mudslide. With 43 people killed and a square mile of devastation, it was more deadly and complex than anything he’d faced before.

Day after day, he met with families who lost loved ones. He and others helped the professional first responders and the local rescuers learn to rely on one another.

“You don’t close anybody off,” he said. “It’s all very important who we bring together, including community leaders, elected officials, fire and police chiefs … (it’s who) you bring into a room, and you keep it orderly … you listen to everybody.”

Reading was called back to Oso to lead the final week of the large-scale search operation. Eventually, everyone missing was found.

And during that time, his job south of Everett didn’t stop. A lot has happened over the past few years, including the birth of South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue, and Reading found himself acting as the interim fire chief. In 2017, he decided he was ready to retire.

He and his wife, Katie, have five grown children. They recently moved from Mill Creek to Skagit County. The final truckload was Monday.

He’ll stay on call with the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team, a regional group that is tasked with leading response to major emergencies, such as the 2013 Skagit County bridge collapse and the 2014 school shootings in Marysville. He’ll keep serving in that way.

Otherwise, he said, the plan is tennis, boating, golf and “everything else retired people do.”

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

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