East Olympia Fire District 6 has changed chiefs.
Chief Mel Low officially retired Monday after a 35-year career in the fire service, including the past eight years as chief. His replacement, Warren Peterson, starts Tuesday.
The transition was celebrated with an open house Monday at the district’s headquarters on Normandy Street.
Low joined the district as a volunteer firefighter in 1978, and four years later, he became the district’s first full-time firefighter. As he moved up the ranks, Low helped develop multiple countywide programs and played a key role in designing the growing district’s facilities.
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Today, the district has 16 total responders (full- and part-time) along with 35 volunteers, Low said. Aside from completing projects on his farm, Low plans to volunteer with the district during retirement.
“I’ve just really enjoyed the community,” Low said. “I’m very pleased with my time here. We’ve built a pretty solid agency.”
The biggest challenge facing the fire district is the railroad, Low said. More than 100 trains pass through the service area while traveling between Portland and Seattle. For about three and a half hours daily, Low said, firefighters can’t get to one side or the other because of the trains. As a result, the district staffs two stations on each side of the tracks.
“The trains are longer now,” Low said. “That’s only going to get worse.”
Randy Young, a longtime volunteer, said Low’s dedication and professionalism made him a role model for the entire fire district, including families in east Olympia.
“When things go bad, he’s there,” Young said. “Chief Low is a great man and a wonderful firefighter. We’re going to miss him.”
Peterson is moving to the region from San Bernardino County Fire in California, where he served as battalion chief.
“I love the mix of volunteers with career firefighters. I love the hometown family feel,” Peterson said of his new employer, where he hopes to wrap up a 35-year career. “East Olympia Fire District has some awesome people there. I just want to continue their strong track record of good customer service and fiscal responsibility.”
District 6 fire commissioner Gary Pearson said the board was impressed with Peterson’s experience in working with volunteers. Peterson will earn an annual salary of $100,000, Pearson said.
“He’s just a good fit. It felt good the minute he walked in the door,” Pearson said. “We’re very excited to get him on board.”