Voters have a choice in November between two candidates for Spokane County Fire District 8 commissioner with multiple years of experience in the fire service, but in different ways.
Incumbent Greg Hesse, a longtime District 8 commissioner, was a firefighter with the Spokane Fire Department for more than 30 years, retiring as the Fire Marshal in 2003. Challenger Jeff Larsen spent his career as a paramedic, mostly on the West Side . District 8 employs a mix of full-time and volunteer firefighters, and stretches across the southern borders of Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Hesse, who joined the Spokane Fire Department in 1970, first served as a District 8 fire commissioner from 2000 to 2013 and was elected again in 2017. He said he briefly considered not running for a new term because he is 76, but said he’s healthy and still enjoys the work. He also likes attending seminars to learn more about fire prevention and other topics.
“You never quit learning in fire prevention,” he said. “I still enjoy it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t run again.”
Hesse said the fire district is running smoothly with three experienced commissioners.
“It’s just been the smoothest that the fire district has ever run,” he said. “The camaraderie with the other commissioners is huge. I think it’s a real bonus for the constituents in our district.”
During his time on the board, he pushed to rebuild Station 81 and recently voted to purchase two new fire engines, Hesse said. The district’s fire chief just retired, and the board will be conducting a search for a new chief in the coming weeks.
“I’ve done so much for that fire district,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges the district faces is attracting and keeping staff, Hesse said. There aren’t as many recruits as there used to be, and he said he wants to make District 8 a desirable place to work.
“When I went on the job, everyone wanted to be a fireman,” he said. “There used to be a huge list.”
Larsen grew up in Spokane Valley, but said he never really left the area even though he worked as a paramedic on the West Side for decades. He earned his pilot’s license in 2001 and has flown himself back and forth to work in his Piper Cherokee airplane.
“I did commute and I still commute,” he said.
He’s mostly retired, although he still works occasional shifts on the West Side. He said he lives in District 8 and thought serving as a fire commissioner would be a way to be involved in the community.
“I have time to do it now,” he said. “When you’re working full time, it’s hard to go to commissioner meetings. I just wanted to try and help serve the citizens around where I live. It will give me something to do.”
He said he would like local fire districts to run their own ambulance services and transport their own patients, which is what many West Side fire districts do. He agrees with Hesse that making District 8 a desirable place to work is key and said he wants to explore programs the district could offer, such as paying for post-retirement medical care.
“I’m not saying for sure that Fire District 8 can do that,” he said. “I’d like to make Fire District 8 be a place that people want to come to rather than a stepping stone to another department.”
Larsen said he grew up in and knows the area, and he has a good perspective on the fire service.
“I’d like to make improvements,” he said.
Hesse said he believes his experience as a firefighter and as a commissioner makes him the best fit for the position. “I’ve got over 50 years in the fire service,” he said.
The general election is Nov. 7.