Bainbridge Island Fire Commissioner YongSuk Cho will have to hang up his firefighter’s helmet as a volunteer with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department.
Actually, he’ll have to turn it in, along with his bunker gear and other firefighting equipment.
Commissioners for the board of the fire department turned down Cho’s request Wednesday to continue serving as a volunteer with the fire department.
Cho, who was elected to the Position 2 seat on the fire board and took the oath of office Wednesday, had hoped to continue as a volunteer with the department while also serving as a commissioner. Cho has been a volunteer firefighter/EMT for Bainbridge for more than 20 years.
State law, however, requires a unanimous vote from commissioners to allow an elected official to serve in both roles.
At the commissioners’ meeting this week, Fire Chief Hank Teran recalled a board decision that set the current policy in place of not allowing commissioners to serve as volunteers in the department.
That decision came after much talk, Teran recalled, and one of the main concerns was that as a volunteer, a commissioner would be under the supervision of staff. Commissioners, though, oversee the chief as well as set the direction and budget for the department.
The dual role would muddy the chain of command, officials said.
“It put the staff in a very awkward position,” Teran said.
Cho, who acknowledged during his campaign for office that serving in two roles would create an issue the department would have to resolve, told his fellow commissioners and staff that having one additional person being able to respond to emergencies was a benefit that should be considered.
“I understand there is a chain of command issue,” Cho added. “I think it’s something that can be worked out.”
Commissioner Dan Morrow, who served earlier as both a volunteer and a career firefighter with the department, told Cho that his relationship with his fellow firefighters would change significantly now that he was on the board.
Morrow added that he respected and appreciated Cho’s volunteer service.
“I can’t get over the chain of command issue,” Morrow added.
Cho then suggested that he be allowed to take occasional ride-alongs with fire crews on emergency calls so he could stay in touch with their concerns, but that idea drew a cool reception as well. Some said firefighters might feel intimidated or concerned with a fire commissioner behind them as they responded to calls.
In the end, the vote on allowing Cho as a volunteer came short of the unanimous vote needed. Commissioners voted 3-2 against the idea, with Cho and Commissioner Scott Isenman voting “no.”
“This is nothing personal, because I personally admire what you are doing,” Commissioner Eileen McSherry told Cho.