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Fire chief bolts for Lewis County post
Bainbridge Island Fire Chief Jim Walkowski will soon be heading south for a new job leading an expanding fire authority in Lewis County.
Its very exciting, Walkowski said Tuesday. As a personal and professional opportunity, its something I couldnt pass up.
Walkowski was offered the job Friday to head Lewis County Fire Department 12, which is in the process of merging with the city of Centralias fire department.
Its not very common and other entities are going to be watching it closely to see how it goes, he said. Its a hybrid approach that will be a real challenge. Im going to see what can be done with the organizational structure so it can take off.
Walkowski was born on Bainbridge Island and began his service in the department at 15 as a cadet. He rose through the ranks of the SeaTac and South Kitsap departments before assuming Bainbridge fires top position five years ago at the age of 32.
He was promoted to head of the department in an organizational shakeup two years ago. The fire board eliminated the position of executive director, making fire chief the departments top post.
Bainbridge has been absolutely awesome, Walkowski said. There is no other reason that Im leaving other than the opportunities in Centralia.
The move may also work in Walkowskis wifes favor, he said. She is eyeing new positions in the South Sound area with her current employer, the Association of Washington Cities.
Walkowski, who earns about $102,000 a year on Bainbridge, will likely take a small pay cut when he assumes his new post. But he will oversee a substantially larger department on the verge of growing even bigger.
The Lewis County department employs 29 career firefighters at eight stations in an area of more than 180 square miles. The islands department, by comparison, employs 16 firefighters at three stations in an area of just 28 square miles.
There is the potential for a pay cut but its not about money, he said. Its strictly about the professional opportunities Ill have in Lewis County.
Fire Commissioner Earl Johnson heaped praise on Walkowski, but said the parting will be bittersweet.
Let me make this very clear: Jim Walkowski is a great young man and a fantastic leader, Johnson said. He has all the qualifications to reach any height he decides to go after. Im excited for him.
At the same time, Walkowskis departure has an opposite mirror effect on the Bainbridge department. Well really be losing something, Johnson said.
Johnson said he and the other commissioners will meet Thursday to begin planning for Walkowskis replacement. The commission will likely appoint an interim chief, but will take its time choosing a permanent successor.
Its not unrealistic to say, given the net were going to cast, that it may take three to six months, he said.
Walkowski will continue to serve as chief until the end of the month.