Matthew Morris, fire chief in Henderson, Nev., has been chosen as the new chief for Kent-based Puget Sound Fire. STEVE HUNTER/Kent Reporter

Kent-based Puget Sound Fire picks new chief

The Puget Sound Fire board selected Matthew Morris, fire chief in Henderson, Nev., to be the new chief for the Kent-based agency.

Morris, one of three finalists for the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority position, has worked with the Henderson Fire Department since 1996 and became chief in 2016.

“This was a difficult decision because of the high quality candidates we had in the final three,” said Bill Boyce, Kent City Council president and a fire board member. “The support and input of the stakeholder groups were crucial in determining our next fire chief.”

Jim Schneider is retiring at the end of August after 15 years as chief of Puget Sound Fire, formerly the Kent Fire Department.

Steven Heitman, chief of the Mercer Island Fire Department and Jeff Helm, administrative division chief with Sioux Falls (S.D.) Fire Rescue, were the other finalists.

The three candidates met with residents during a reception Monday at the Kent Senior Center.

“I’m very pleased with the candidates,” said Boyce, who helped narrow a list of about 18 candidates. “Our top three were pretty much the same, and we had some really good candidates to choose from. We want somebody who is going to be here for a long time. Historically, we have had some fine chiefs. We want somebody to pick the ball up and keep running.”

Kent has had three fire chiefs in the last 52 years – Tom Foster, Norm Angelo and Schneider.

Boyce said challenges for Morris will include how to keep the fire authority financially sustainable, building a new fire station and getting voter approval to extend the fire benefit charge.

Voters last year approved a six-year extension of the fee, but the vote will come up again in five years.

“The new guy coming in is going to have to make sure we get all of these things done in a pretty timely manner,” Boyce said prior to the announcement of Morris as the top pick.

Several stakeholder groups and the fire board interviewed the three finalists on Tuesday.

Boyce and Schneider will visit Henderson to get feedback from co-workers and local officials about Morris, who has a conditional offer to be the new chief based on a contract to be agreed upon by both parties and a site visit to his current place of employment.

The fire board, which includes three members from the Kent City Council and three from the Fire District 37 board, is scheduled to ratify Morris as the new chief at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Annual pay for the new chief will be between $187,800 and $207,000, according to fire board documents.

Puget Sound Fire serves about 181,000 people in the cities of Kent, SeaTac, Covington and portions of unincorporated King County.

“I want to be as good as I can be at what I do, to be better tomorrow than I am today,” Morris said at the Monday meeting with residents. “I understand the bigger picture that is about the community. We want this community to be healthy and safe, and we play a role in that as a fire department.”

Morris shared his philosophy about the role of a fire department.

“I believe in my heart the why of the fire system, and that is simply to take care of people,” he said. “That’s all we are here to do. What we do and how we do it changes, but why we do it never will. My promise as your fire chief is to keep our organization focused on the why.”

Heitman, who lives in the Kent area, has been the Mercer Island chief for nearly three years. He started with the department in 2001 as a firefighter.

“I told myself since I had aspirations to be a fire chief that if this position ever opened, this is a position I would be going for,” Heitman said at the public reception.

Helm has worked with Sioux Fall Fire Rescue for more than 20 years and has been a division chief since 2011.

“I researched the position and it lined up with a lot of things that I am very passionate about and that is community and engagement with the community,” Helm said.

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