Fire department sees change in the new year

Although South Whidbey Fire/EMS has seen recent changes in staffing, the department’s goal to provide quality service to the surrounding citizens still remains the same.

The new year witnessed the retirement of Fire Commissioner Kenon Simmons and Deputy Chief of Operations Mike Cotton.

Simmons, a lifelong Whidbey resident who served the district for 38 years, said he felt a little guilty about leaving but that it was time for a new voice on the board.

“I was chairman of the board for many years,” he said. “I think it’s good to bring in new ideas, new perspectives.”

Simmons served as a firefighter with the department for 26 years and served two terms on the board of commissioners.

Cotton spent nearly 27 years working with South Whidbey Fire/EMS. He served in all three roles as a deputy: resource, training and operations managers.

The latter role was his favorite, and the one he had before retiring.

“I had the best job in the world, working with the volunteers,” he said, adding that he misses that aspect of being deputy chief the most.

Fire Chief Rusty Palmer said Simmons brought a different viewpoint to the community, and that Cotton had been a good fit for the community.

Mike Noblet may refer to himself as “the new kid on the block,” but as the district’s newest fire commissioner, he is anything but inexperienced.

The former Bothell mayor and city council member has worked extensively with local governments in roles of leadership.

“He just really has a thorough understanding of governments, how boards and how governments should work,” Palmer said. “I think he’s going to be a really good addition to our board.”

Palmer added that Noblet was involved with the strategic planning process for the fire department’s proposed levy lid lift as a citizen since 2018. Since he was sworn in on Jan. 10, Palmer said Noblet has “hit the ground running.”

Noblet said one of his goals is to support Palmer during his retirement, which is slated for 2022 during his six-year commissioner term.

A new deputy chief of operations, Terry Ney, was also recently welcomed by the fire department. He was sworn in on Jan. 6.

“My wife and I have wanted to live up on the island for years,” Ney said.

Many years ago, he had applied previously for a position with Oak Harbor’s fire department.

“It only took me 30 years to get here,” he said with a laugh.

Ney has spent the last 40 years serving communities similar in size throughout Oregon, first as a volunteer and then as a fire chief.

“I think he’s going to be a great fit here. He’s just very personable and comes with a wealth of knowledge,” Palmer said about Ney.

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