By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD — At age 10, Jeff Faucett was playing in his yard when he heard a distressed neighbor scream out. Jeff bolted over to see what was happening, only to find that his neighbor had pinned his arm against a well while working in a pump house.
Young Jeff feverishly worked with the man and eventually, the two managed to dislodge the arm.
“That incident had a major impact on me,” said Faucett, now 45. “There is the gratification you get when you help someone out and it has an impact on their life.”
The desire to help others facing an emergency played a role in Faucett signing up to become a volunteer local firefighter when he was 18. And this month, after 28 years of dedicated service as a Port Orchard-area firefighter, Faucett has been named South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s new fire chief.
“It’s a dream come true,” Faucett said of his new job.
“It was humbling. I am so grateful the fire district and board of commissioners trust me to run this fine organization,” the amiable Faucett said.
Another significant factor in his choosing firefighting as a career was his father.
Gary Faucett spent 26 years as part of the predecessor of SKFR, Fire District 7, earning the rank of deputy chief. Gary left the local fire department in 2005 and finished out his career as chief of the Lake Stevens Fire Department. Faucett’s father retired in 2010.
“Growing up around the fire district and hearing my dad’s stories about work, I always had in the back of my mind that I would be a firefighter,” he said.
The chief’s position opened in March when South Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Steve Wright announced he was going to retire. It turns out before he could begin his retirement, Wright accepted a position to become executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs Association.
And after two months of in-house interviews with three candidates, Faucett was appointed to the top spot by the fire district’s board of commissioners. But in reaching the top rung at SKFR, the career firefighter had to climb up plenty of rungs of the ladder.
In 1992, Faucett started with Fire District 7 as a volunteer firefighter for six years. In 1998, he was hired as a career firefighter, later reaching the ranks of lieutenant, captain, battalion chief and assistant chief. On July 1, he became fire chief.
As he settles into his new role, Faucett said the top priorities for SKFR in the days ahead are to continue to be financially responsible, make capital improvements and focus on recruiting.
“Our funding is based on property taxes and occasional bonds,” Faucett explained.
Due to the 2008 recession, SKFR, like many government departments, took a major budget hit. The lesson learned from that period was that SKFR has to operate within the district’s expected tax revenue perimeters and regularly set aside resources to operate in lean times, Faucett said.
“We need to have a rainy-day fund,” he said.
Regarding capital improvements, a $39.5-million fire and rescue bond to maintain fire stations and upgrade vehicles was slated to go before voters in August. The measure, however, had to be postponed due to COVID-19.
An estimated 30 to 35 percent of SKFR’s staff will be eligible to retire in the next five years, he said. Currently, the office has 100 full-time employees, including 81 firefighters, administrators and support staff. There also are 35 volunteer firefighters.
“We need to keep an eye on getting new staff to fill the shoes of those who will be leaving,” he said.
Meanwhile, training for South Kitsap firefighters has been hampered by the pandemic.
“We have scaled back our training,” he said. “We are not able to send anyone out of state so we are doing a lot more online training.”
Faucett resides in Manchester with his wife Fawnda and their three children, Rylan, Miranda and Aubrey.
“We have a great fire district. South Kitsap is lucky to have a fire department like this one,” Faucett said. “I am lucky to be in a position to watch the staff succeed in jobs they love.”
Steve Wright’s new challenge
Soon after Wright announced he was retiring as the local fire chief after 34 years of service in Kitsap County, an opportunity to work fewer hours and still remain active in the profession opened up. He grabbed it.
Wright was selected to be executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs Association, a group that provides education and advocacy for fire agencies across the state.
“This provides me the opportunity to use the skill and experiences I acquired to help other fire agencies move in the right direction,” Wright said.
The former chief now works three days a week.
“It carries a different level of stress,” he smiled. “I do not have to oversee 10,000 calls a year.”
While working at his new position in Olympia, Wright and his wife will remain living in Olalla.