Tacoma bids farewell to fire chief

Tacoma Fire Chief Ronald W. Stephens was honored by City Hall Tuesday evening with a proclamation thanking him for his service in the city’s fire department.

Stephens was appointed Fire Chief in 2006, and has served 35 years with the department. Under Stephen’s command, the Tacoma Fire Department achieved national accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He oversaw a significant effort to increase the diversity of the organization and developed a strong culture of public service within the department. He has worked as a Field Officer, Lieutenant, Captain of the Training Division, Deputy Harbor Master, Assistant Manager of the Tacoma Emergency Operations Center, Assistant Chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau, Fire Department EEO Officer, and Deputy Chief of Administration. He served as the Coordinator of the Tacoma Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team, and was a member of the South Puget Sound Regional Hazardous Materials Team and was certified as a Hazmat Technician. He was also a board member and served as Treasurer of the Puget Sound Marine Firefighting Commission.

On March 14, Stephens announced his retirement effective March 29. Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax has appointed Assistant Chief James Duggan to serve as Interim Fire Chief until a permanent replacement is named following a nationwide search. A retirement celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. at City Hall.

During Tuesday’s Tacoma City Council meeting, many people praised Stephens for his work. Here are some excerpts of their public comments.


I have known Chief Stephens for, I think, most of his fire career.

I got to know him very, very well when we did the TriData study back in, I believe that was 1992, and that was the study that basically became the strategic plan for the Tacoma Fire Department that allowed us to probably grow faster in our services in the way that we did things than any other fire department in the country and put us right up there on the top. Ron was part of that group. We shifted from a suppression model to a prevention model, beefing up our medical services and allowing us to become what I think is the best fire department in the U.S. I think none of us can disagree with that.

I followed his career as he moved up through the ranks and I was not surprised that he did. When the opportunity came for a new chief, I knew that Chief Stephens — at that time Ron was the deputy chief — and felt he should move up. I called him and said, ‘Would you like me to write you a letter?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely.’

Ron has led our department with integrity of the greatest amount of expertise and yet he has found time to still stay connected with our community. There are many times I have seen him out at Fire Station No. 6 and seen him in our community so that people know who chief Ron Stephens is. So it is an honor for me to be here tonight to have the opportunity to say a few words and on behalf of the citizens of Tacoma, which I am now one again. I want to once again say, ‘Thank you, Ron, for your service to us. You will be missed.’


Two years ago, I ran into you at the airport. Talking to you, I said, ‘I heard you might be retiring soon,’ and you said, ‘Well, I don’t know. We’ll see.’ I want to let you know how much it means to me that you stuck around during really tough times when you could have retired any time and had a lot less stress in your life. So I think from the department members, I thank you for helping guide the ship through these times without any major service reductions.


One of the first department directors I got acquainted with when I got on the City Council was chief Stephens before he was chief. Knowing and following your career, you really have exemplified, chief, the term public service and service above self and you are in an organization that does that every day because our firefighters put their lives on the line just like our police put their lives on the line every day. But you have approached this job in such a professional way. You, I think, are a model of what we would like to have every public servant be about in terms of the way you conduct yourself: professional but honest, and blunt honest sometimes when it needs to be. I have appreciated that because that’s what the public expects, is that people who are going to stand up and say what is right and what is wrong can also make a 24-hour commitment out of the work that they do. I know you do and I know you love the department. No one stays 35 years in a job like this unless you love what you do.

You are entitled to your time with your family and I hope you enjoy that. I hope that you will also stay in the neighborhood in case there’s a 911 call at my house because you are a little closer to me than the fire station is. I hope you have a defibrillator with you in your car when I call.

Enjoy your retirement and God bless you.


Chief, whenever I spoke with you, there were two things I always appreciated: brevity and sincerity. So with that, I return the favor. Thank you for your service.


In 1977, I was fighting forest fires and I have had a lot of jobs that are different since then and you stuck it out and that is something that gives great honor to Tacoma and to wherever you served. A couple weeks ago, we had a conversation about leadership and it was profound and I realized at that point that you really define leadership and you have been that for the City of Tacoma and we are going to miss you. Thank you so much for your service.


I would just like to say on behalf of the City of Tacoma and the citizens of Tacoma, we are very grateful that we have had you at the helm. You have been a role model and are someone who makes us incredibly proud. You have earned your retirement.


For me, chief, you walk the talk. It is evident by everyone here tonight. You are a role model. We have been able to have some incredible conversations on leadership and it is really evident that you walk that talk by the people who are in this room today, by the fact you have been able to be here for 35 years and people are still sad the day you are going to leave. Thank you so much.

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Tacoma Fire Chief announces retirement (03/14/12) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2130842&more=0

What would Tacoma look like with 100 fewer police officers, firefighters? (12/07/11) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2081915&more=0

Tacoma Fire Dept. awarded $1.5M grant (03/03/11) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1935173&more=0