Ed Hartin was just six weeks old when he attended his first fire.
The blaze in question was just down the street from his house. His mother put him in his baby carriage and wheeled him down to the scene. At the time, his father was serving as fire chief in the area.
“The firefighters that worked with my dad, they saw me there, and so they put my name on the incident report as one of the members who responded,” he said. “It kind of cracked him up.”
At the end of the year, the chief of Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue will retire from the career that had its unofficial beginnings in his infancy, and the department will begin the search for a new leader after 13 years with Hartin at the helm.
Unsurprisingly, considering his early exposure to the field, Hartin knew his whole life he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter.
“I sort of grew up in the firehouse,” he said.
He began his official career at age 19 in his home state of Massachusetts. He spent nine years as a firefighter, and eventually a fire captain, in Concord before spending four years as chief in the nearby town of Ashby.
His career then led him to work for the National Fire Academy in Maryland, and eventually the private sector, doing fire brigade and hazardous materials training in the petrochemical industry in the Caribbean.
Hartin eventually returned to the fire service. He spent 14 years in Gresham, Oregon, filling various positions within the fire department until the city went through a difficult financial period in 2009 and had to lay off almost everyone in Hartin’s division.
When searching for his next job, he and his wife decided they wanted to return to a smaller community like the ones they’d grown up in. Hartin applied for the chief position at Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue and was hired in 2009.
Along the way, he earned associate, bachelor and master degrees in subjects related to the fire service.
Hartin said his defining achievements during his tenure on Central Whidbey include increasing the number of full-time firefighters and expanding and facilitating training and professional development opportunities.
The chief was also a successful financial steward; the department earned an AAA bond-rating from Standard and Poor’s as well as the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for nine consecutive years under Hartin’s leadership.
“Chief Hartin has elevated this fire district to a professional organization,” said Steve Hutchinson, chairperson of the Board of Fire Commissioners. “We’ve been able to maintain the island tradition of volunteers and career personnel to deliver a level of service our residents require.”
Hartin’s last day on the job will be Dec. 31 — 48 years, eight months and eight days after entering the field, excluding that first baby carriage visit to the scene of a fire. He said the thing he will miss most about working in firefighting will be the people he has come to know.
“I’ve not had a bad day at work since I started this adventure,” he said.
According to his colleagues, he will be missed in kind.
“Chief Hartin modernized fire and emergency services delivery to the residents and businesses in Central Whidbey and Island County,” Deputy Chief Jerry Helm wrote in an email. “We deeply appreciate his service and look forward to continuing his legacy of organizational transparency and continuous improvement.”
Hartin said he isn’t sure what retirement will bring, though he anticipates spending some time traveling with his wife, Sue, who has supported him throughout his career. He said he would like to continue teaching and training in the fire service field, something he has done internationally and will have the opportunity to do again at conferences in Europe next year.
Whatever comes next, he said the identity he has forged throughout his career will remain a part of him.
“I will always be a firefighter,” he said.
Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue will begin the search for a new chief Dec. 1.