When Spokane Valley Fire Department Chief Mike Thompson came out of retirement to take his current job, he told fire commissioners that he could promise them between five and eight years on the job.
With eight years nearly up, Thompson has announced plans to retire again in March.
Thompson, who turns 65 next month, said he has not picked an exact date. “It just depends,” he said. “I’ve told the commissioners I’m absolutely flexible.”
Before coming to the Spokane area to be closer to his father, Thompson had been the chief administrative officer in Culver City, Calif., for two years and the fire department chief for seven years. He had worked for several fire departments in California after falling in love with the area while he was serving four years in the Marines.
He joined the Marines right out of high school. “I wasn’t really ready for college,” he said. “I don’t think I would have done well.”
By the time he finished his enlistment he was ready for school and determined enough to commute to night classes. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration.
Thompson said it’s time to hang up the uniform again. “I think that it’s time for me to go and someone else to step in and keep the department moving forward,” he said.
The department has come a long way under Thompson’s leadership. A deputy chief used to handle the human resources duties and Thompson hired a human resources director. “It’s such a technical position nowadays,” he said.
The department worked for two years to gain international accreditation. “That was kind of my charge from the board of directors when I was hired,” Thompson said. “It’s not an easy task. It’s daunting at times.”
Thompson led efforts to create a countywide ambulance contract that includes 12 fire districts and departments. He oversaw the construction of three fire stations and an administration building, all paid for. Thompson credits that feat to the department’s long-standing cash-only policy.
“That was a new experience for me but a very pleasant experience,” he said. “It’s not unusual that departments carry a significant amount of debt.”
A three-year maintenance and operations levy that accounts for more than half the department’s annual budget passed successfully in August. “I think this department is going to be able to sustain programs and services over the next three years with a cushion in the bank,” he said.
Thompson was lavish in his praise for the department’s employees, saying he’s never worked anywhere else with people who have such a commitment to the community and to customer service. “I think that the personnel here are outstanding,” he said.
Right now Thompson’s only plans are to keep busy by helping with his father’s business, which includes two local Chuck-E-Cheese pizza parlors. He has also been contacted by a couple of consulting firms. “I’m that type of person,” he said. “I have to have something to do.”
The department is preparing to hire Thompson’s replacement. The board of commissioners will look over applications in January and decide which candidates to interview. Thompson said his interview was an all-day process that included department employees, citizens, elected officials and the fire commissioners.
Don’t look for Thompson to coast toward his retirement. “I’m committed to working just as hard until the day I walk out the door as I did the day I walked in the door,” he said.