Firefighters descend on city hall in support of ousted chief

David Schmitt was fired without cause by Mayor Wheeler on October 24.

More than 40 firefighters, EMTs, retired emergency services personnel and Bremerton Fire Department staff filled the city council’s chambers Wednesday evening to demonstrate support for David Schmitt, the fire chief who was terminated unexpectedly last month.

Notice of Schmitt’s firing was sent on October 24 in a press release emailed from Mayor Greg Wheeler’s office. No explanation was given.

“I have terminated the employment of Fire Chief, David Schmitt without cause effective today,” the statement, sent from the account of Wheeler’s assistant Elaine Valencia, read. “I would like to thank him for his contributions to the Fire Department and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

With a TV camera crew looking on Wednesday evening, dozens of uniformed firefighters and off-duty staff rose as the former chief, hired just last year after a nationwide search, addressed the council. He claimed a litany of accomplishments over his 18-month term including the refurbishment of a rescue boat, the addition of a fire inspector and the acquisition of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of FEMA grants.

“It would be an honor to continue leading this outstanding professional group of men and women who I appreciate and respect,” he said. “They have become like family.”

The mayor has not responded to repeated requests for comment. City staff members are employed at-will, meaning they can be fired for any reason that is not legally discriminatory.

Schmitt was hired in March 2017 after 30 years with the Burbank Fire Department in Southern California. He and his wife have six children.

During his tenure, Schmitt lobbied the city to add personnel to the department including a new fire prevention inspector – a request the city granted. The department currently has 60 full-time staff members.

“We showed the need for additional firefighters,” Schmitt said.

In September, the department announced it would be hiring three new firefighters funded with the help of a FEMA grant, which would cover 75 percent of their personnel costs in the first two years, and 25 percent in the third.

The city’s draft 2019 budget includes $10.6 million allocated for the fire department, with $9.5 million for personnel. Schmitt’s annual salary was about $149,000, King 5 news reported, making him one of Bremerton’s highest-paid employees. The salary range for fire chief is between $129,000 and $158,000, city budget documents show.

Assistant Fire Chief Patrick McGanney has been named interim chief. The 28-year veteran of the department said he was surprised when he received the news but is no stranger to the role: He held the temporary post last year as the city searched for a replacement for Al Duke, who retired. Duke, in attendance Wednesday, held the position since 1997.