Public safety is a top priority for the City of Bellingham, and I'd like to
use this opportunity to introduce myself and describe my role in supporting
the health and safety of our community.
I was appointed Fire Chief in January 2014, after serving as assistant fire
chief for a year. I'm thankful to work with so many capable, committed
people, within my department, throughout City government and beyond.
Prior to Bellingham, I worked for the City of Redmond (WA) Fire Department,
serving as lieutenant, captain, battalion chief and deputy chief of
emergency medical services. I also hold a master's degree in aerospace
engineering, an associate of arts in fire administration and command, and
completed the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer program.
Here are my thoughts on questions I am commonly asked.
What are the Bellingham Fire Chief's responsibilities?
I lead the Bellingham Fire Department, supervising 150 employees including
120 firefighters and paramedics. We staff six City fire stations and
paramedic units, serve over 80,000 people in about 25 square miles, and have
a 2014 budget of $23 million. Last year, we responded to almost 15,000 calls
Our mission is to protect lives and property from the adverse effects of
fire, medical emergencies and exposure to hazardous conditions created by
man or nature. To meet this mission we provide firefighting, paramedic and
disaster response, and many other services to prevent and prepare for fires,
disasters and medical emergencies.
The Fire Department operates in partnership with all of City government,
working together to address needs citywide. For example, the Fire Department
responds regularly to incidents involving the Police Department, providing
services and back up to each other. We work closely with engineers, planners
and others, to make sure as the City grows and develops, new areas have
adequate public safety services and response times. I lead the City's
emergency management efforts, involving the whole City in training,
preparing for and responding to disasters. These relationships are
synergistic, and I'm proud to be part of a great team leading our community
into the future.
As fire chief for Bellingham Fire, I also serve as fire chief for Whatcom
County Fire District 8 through a contract to provide administrative services
to the District. In that capacity I work cooperatively with the District 8
Fire Commissioners and department members to provide fire and emergency
medical services to the Marietta area and Lummi Nation.
I also represent the fire service to our community, including regularly
engaging individuals and groups locally and regionally, and by my
involvement nationally. I find out what is taking place nationally as fire,
paramedic and disaster services change, and bring home new ideas and
expertise for our community.
How did you get from aerospace engineering to fire service?
I was an aerospace engineer working for a large, well-known airplane
manufacturer. My wife and I moved to the Seattle area from Florida, and I
began volunteering for a small fire district as a way to meet people and
connect with our community. I discovered the fire service is about much more
than putting water on fires, requiring leadership and knowledge I already
had as well as more I needed to learn. The rewards of volunteering in this
field were significant and I found it very satisfying.
With the full support of my then-employer, I decided to make it my full-time
career. Fire, paramedic and disaster response services are very complex and
I use many of my engineering skills to perform my job. This field has
provided me with a very satisfying career, with lots of room to grow and
learn and many ways to contribute, and has provided lasting friendships and
strong relationships with many people.
How has the fire service changed during your career?
Fiscal constraints: We are operating under more fiscal constraints and with
greater public scrutiny. Historically the fire service relied on good will
to demonstrate effectiveness. Today, we demonstrate fiscal responsibility
and accountability by collecting and reporting information about what we do
and how we are meeting our mission. This is a healthy change, and I look
forward to sharing my department's successes with our community.
Financial constraints also require us to work more cooperatively with our
neighbors, another healthy change in fire culture. We are seeing more agency
consolidation and collaboration in training, disaster preparedness and
response. Some agencies routinely share staff and equipment. For example,
when Redmond responds to a large fire, the cities of Bellevue and Kirkland
regularly get called out as well, providing additional equipment – ladder
trucks, aid cars, etc. – and personnel.
Highly qualified personnel: We are seeing a higher level of education and
experience in our leadership, officers and entry-level personnel. It has
become a very competitive field of highly qualified, well-educated
Medical services: Our health care system is changing, and along with that we
need to evaluate how we provide EMS and paramedic services, by finding
better ways to meet community medical needs in addition to a 9-1-1 call and
transport to the hospital. These changes will continue to develop in the
What issues is your department facing in the next five years?
Regional cooperation: We recently began providing administrative services to
Whatcom Fire District 8, and will be looking for other partnerships to gain
efficiency and effectiveness through shared operations, equipment and
EMS system changes: Whatcom County recently took over administration of
advance life support paramedic services. We continue to work with county
officials to make sure this system continues to run smoothly and
cooperatively, delivering the high level of service our community expects.
Planned growth: There is excitement around developing the downtown
waterfront, and we are steadily moving in to the urban growth areas. We are
working closely with Planning, Public Works, Police and others during these
planning phases, to make sure we can provide appropriate levels of public
safety response to those areas as they develop.
Retirement planning: A key internal issue is retirements and planning for
those vacancies. We have experienced many retirements already, and will
continue to during the next 5-10 years. We are looking at ways to maintain
our base of experience, and developing our staff members to succeed in
How are you and your family enjoying Bellingham?
We enjoy the strong sense of community in Bellingham. People here live,
work, shop and play in Bellingham, not as often traveling between four or
five adjacent cities as we did in Redmond. My family includes my wife
Sharon, and our children Andy (9th grade) and Molly (kindergarten). Everyone
is welcoming and we have a strong sense of belonging even in our short time
here. It has been wonderful to discover local restaurants, shops and the
City's overall character. We also enjoy the trails and we all ski, snowboard
and backpack so we appreciate the proximity to the mountains.
We love our new home, and I am enjoying good relationships in the department
and throughout the City. Things are really going in the right direction and
I'm excited about the challenges and opportunities here. It's daunting but
Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Newbold can be reached at the Bellingham Fire
Department, 360-778-8400 or