East Pierce selects new fire chief

E. L. 'Bud' Backer is currently deputy chief at Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah.

He might not come riding into town on a blazing saddle, but East Pierce Fire and Rescue will be getting a new fire chief all the same.

In an unanimous decision during the May 14 special fire commissioner meeting, E. L. “Bud” Backer was issued a conditional offer of employment as East Pierce’s new fire chief.

“Bud is skilled in all aspects of the job,” said Fire Commissioner Dale Mitchell. “He embodies all the things we are looking for.”

Backer, who is currently the deputy chief at Eastside Fire and Rescue in Issaquah, is filling the spot opened when Fire Chief Jerry Thorson announced his retirement Jan. 28, ending a career of more than 40 years in the fire service.

Thorson will be officially retired at the end of June.

Who is Bud Backer?

Backer became Eastside Fire and Rescue’s deputy chief in 2011 after joining up with the fire department a year prior.

Before that, Backer was the deputy chief for the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety department in Washington for nine years.

Backer was also fire chief at King County Fire District 45 from 1998 to 2000 at the end of a 12-year long career with that district.

Backer graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology and graduated from Grand Canyon University in Arizona with a Master of Science degree in Fire Service Leadership.

Backer is also a graduate from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program.

The selection process

East Pierce began officially looking for a new fire chief when they hired Greg Prothman on March 2 to head a national search for fire chief applicants.

There were 21 initial candidates for the position, but the search was pared down to five finalists.

The East Pierce Fire and Rescue community had an opportunity to meet the finalists during a question and answer session at the Edgewood station on May 11.

The next day, fire commissioners and other elected or appointed officials from all the cities in East Pierce’s jurisdiction held interviews for each candidate.

“We could live with any one of the candidates,” Mitchell said after making the conditional employment announcement. “We liked Bud’s background, several college degrees, and going through the national academy on the East Coast stood out.”

Backer will be coming to East Pierce after the department’s maintenance and operations levy failed to muster 60 percent of votes during last year’s primary and general elections, which cut department’s budget by more than $3 million.

Since then, the department has cut several community programs and in December even announced the layoffs of six firefighters, a decision that was reversed a week later.

“I think he realized he’s coming into a tough situation, but he has a lot of ideas on how to work with it,” Mitchell said.

The commissioners plan to have a contract drafted for Backer by the regular commissioner’s meeting on May 19, after press deadline.

Reach Ray Still at rstill@courierherald.com or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter @rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.