GIG HARBOR, Wash. – The commissioners of a Western Washington fire district do not want new Fire Chief Dennis Doan to answer any questions about the circumstances surrounding his departure from his previous job in Boise, where he quit rather than be fired over an undisclosed “personnel issue.”
Doan was selected to head the Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One, formally known as Fire District 5, in January. His first day on the job was Monday.
The department has nine fire stations, five of which are staffed full time, and approximately 125 full-time employees. It covers 54 square miles of the Gig Harbor Peninsula, which includes the city of Gig Harbor as well as the unincorporated areas surrounding it, such as Fox Island. The annual budget is “just shy of $30 million,” former chief John Burgess said in an exit interview.
The Peninsula Gateway had been seeking an interview with Doan since his selection and was working on setting up a call for Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the fire district, Division Chief Eric Waters, said that an interview could take place. However, it was conditioned on the Gateway not attempting to ask any questions regarding Doan’s departure from his position as fire chief for the city of Boise.
Waters said that “Chief Doan will not answer any questions or follow-up questions relating to his employment with the City of Boise Fire Department” and that “Chief Doan will not answer any questions or follow-up questions relating to his departure from the City of Boise Fire Department.”
The email then went on to say that “deviations from the aforementioned conditions will result in the interview ending immediately.”
The Gateway declined to participate in the interview under those conditions.
Doan has denied any wrongdoing and said he did not do “anything illegal, immoral, or substandard.” He has also previously asserted that the decision by Boise city leadership to remove him was politically motivated.
In an email sent to the Gateway in January, Doan had said he “has repeatedly and publicly given media permission to have access” to his personnel file to verify there was no wrongdoing. The city of Boise said that Doan would need to fill out a form to release his file. When asked to do that, Doan stopped responding to emails.
According to his contract with the fire district, Doan’s base salary will be $16,666.67 a month, or $200,000 annually.
The chairman of the district’s board of commissioners, Alex Wilsie, said the commissioners haven’t seen Doan’s personnel file and that they accepted the recommendation of an Issaquah-based consulting company, Prothman, that he be hired.
“The District hired Prothman to handle the search. They brought us candidates that had been thoroughly vetted and the Commissioners selected from that group,” Wilsie said in an email. “During that process and selection, the Commissioners did not review Chief Doan’s personnel file from Boise.”
Wilsie said that the board “did discuss” Doan’s departure from Boise and he has their “confidence in him to perform as Fire Chief of Fire District #5.”
Waters, division chief and public information officer for the department, said he hasn’t seen Doan’s personnel file and emphasized the department is “not looking backwards.”
“Our board went through a process. They’re very comfortable and confident in that process,” Waters said. “We’re looking forward, we’re not looking backwards.”
Waters said he did not consider the circumstances of Doan’s departure from Boise to be relevant.
“Whatever may have occurred outside of our organization, we don’t believe it’s relevant to our organization,” Waters said. “It’s someone else’s story to tell, it’s someone else’s information. It is not ours and that’s outside of our lane.”
In an email Thursday, Wilsie sent a statement he said was on the behalf of the board: “Our preference is that the conversation with Chief Doan regarding his appointment as Fire Chief discusses Gig Harbor and his current position, rather than focusing solely on the very end of his lengthy and successful tenure in Boise.”
Wilsie’s statement inaccurately claimed that “no one prohibited the Gateway from asking any questions.”
“Our hiring process was extensive and thorough, and Chief Doan was very forthright in his interview, which can be viewed on the district’s YouTube channel. The overwhelming support for Chief Doan from the local community, our labor partners, and the Board of Commissioners signals that he is the right person for the job. The Board of Commissioners is focused on Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, and would hope that the Gateway will allow Chief Doan to share our goals and vision for the future so that our community may be properly informed.”
Emails asking for comment from commissioners Tom Sutich, Kevin Entze, Joe Urvina, and Bryce Nelson went unanswered.
When reached by phone, commissioner Sutich declined to comment and referred all questions to commissioner Wilsie.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.