Incoming AFD Chief withdraws name, will stay in current job

One week before the Aberdeen Fire Department was supposed to welcome John Clark to the city, he withdrew from taking the department’s fire chief position.

Clark, who spoke to The Daily World on Monday, July 25, will stay at North Whidbey Fire and Rescue (NWFR) where he has held the fire chief position since 2020.

Clark’s withdrawal happened 12 days after the Aberdeen City Council voted to hire him.

Clark called it a “personal decision,” to stay at NWFR, which is located in Oak Harbor. He explained why he had a change of heart.

“There are some projects and some things I want to finish. So, for the foreseeable future, I’m gonna stay at North Whidbey,” Clark said.

Clark’s late withdrawal caught AFD Interim Chief Dave Golding by surprise. Golding has served as interim chief since Friday, June 10, when Fire Chief Tom Hubbard retired.

“John Clark withdrawing his name was truly unexpected,” Golding said. “Due to this, I will continue to fulfill the role of interim fire chief. The department will continue to operate as it has been over the past few months, while the city continues to work through this process.”

Clark said neither the city of Aberdeen, nor the Aberdeen Fire Department, played a role in his decision.

“No, nothing about Aberdeen,” he said. “Like I said, there are some projects here I want to finish. I’m also just about at retirement age, so I’ve got some options.”

Clark, who’s been a firefighter since 1979, talked about the fact that his house there sold “right away.”

“We got a lot more than what we thought, for it,” Clark said. “It changed some things, (including) our perspective, as far as do you retire a little bit earlier, or a bit later, those kind of things.”

Another reason he’s staying at NWFR is because of some “big projects” coming down the pike, including two brand new fire trucks coming off the line during the first part of September. The trucks were ordered in July 2021, and according to Clark, were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re gonna see those trucks come back and get put in service,” Clark said. “One of them replaces a truck that’s out of service completely right now. We’re short one engine in the station. So that’ll bring our full fleet back up.”

Clark said fire trucks aren’t like cars, where they’re bought at the dealership and driven home.

“When you bring them back (to the station,) the equipment’s got to be put on,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on there. I’ll get to see those two trucks put in service. That’s almost $1.1 million in equipment.”

The other projects Clark is working on for NWFR include a strategic plan and a staffing plan.

Clark added he also wanted a longer transition plan with Aberdeen.

”It was one of those things, a personal decision,” Clark said. “I was better staying here for now, and in trying to finish things up here.”

Despite the short window that Clark seems to have given the city, his withdrawal on July 25 was not the first hint the city received.

“I talked to (Aberdeen) Mayor (Pete Schave) a couple times,” Clark said. “And I let him know this morning.”

According to Clark, Schave was “very cordial” about the news of Clark’s withdrawal.

“These aren’t personal decisions,” Clark said. “These are decisions that are made based on what your circumstances are.”

And, according to Clark, withdrawals for firefighting positions, including fire chief, are not rare.

“You’ll see a lot of places where the chief will take the job, or accept an offer, and then either not take it and stay where they’re at, or move to a different department,” Clark said. “There are a lot of opportunities for fire chiefs right now, same thing for firefighters. It’s not uncommon.”

Clark said NWFR has a full-time position available and despite having three candidates test last week, not one of the three showed up.

“We’ve had other people we’ve hired and before they started they said they weren’t coming,” Clark said. “In the full-time fire world, unfortunately it’s a very competitive market to keep employees anymore.”

Clark said he didn’t know what Aberdeen’s next step was now that he isn’t taking the job.

“They had two other candidates in the process,” Clark said. “I don’t know if they’ll go back to one of those candidates.”

One of the candidates is from Whatcom County, and the other is Golding.

Golding said moving forward, he hopes he’ll get the opportunity to take over as AFD’s chief full time.

“I am hopeful that with my knowledge and experiences, especially those centered around the history and operations of the Aberdeen Fire Department and the local emergency services community, that I will have the opportunity to fulfill the fire chief’s position on a permanent basis,” Golding said. “There are some challenging and exciting things on the horizon for the department that I look forward to working on.”