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Longtime fire chief retires at end of the month

Around 150 people showed up at the Seabeck Conference Center last week to pay tribute to Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Roy Lusk, who is retiring at the end of the year after a 43-year career with the department.

“It was amazing,” Lusk said of the send-off. “It went above and beyond what they needed to do for me. It was really beautiful.”

Chief Lusk’s career in the fire service began while he was a junior at Central Kitsap High School when, at 16, he joined Kitsap County Fire District 1, now commonly known as Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

Lusk said that he was walking down the street in Old Town Silverdale when he bumped into firefighter Bob Burpee.

“He said, ‘Where you headed?’ ” Lusk recalls. “I told him I was just heading home and he eventually asked me, ‘What are you gonna do with your life? Why don’t you become a volunteer at the fire department?’ ”

Lusk wasn’t so sure at first, but he remembers seeing other kids running out of school to go on medical and fire calls and eventually decided to give it a shot.

“I got involved and just loved it, I really fell in love with it,” Lusk said.

Lusk continued to serve as a volunteer for the next 13 years, achieving the ranks of Station Lieutenant,  Station Captain, Battalion Chief and District Assistant Chief. In August 1982, in what he calls one of his career highlights, Lusk was hired as the first paid Assistant Chief and was instrumental in organizing the district’s first Fire Prevention, Public Education, Fire Inspection and Fire Investigation programs.

Lusk’s other major career highlight, of course, was when he became chief.

“It’s the crowning glory of anyone’s career in fire service,” he said. “Not everyone aspires to it and there was a time when I wasn’t sure, but looking back it was a great decision.”

Lusk said he was just weeks, if not months, away from retiring when he agreed to fill in as interim chief during a national search for a new chief.

“I agreed and had already decided I wouldn’t test for the position,” Lusk said. “Eventually, as the search went on, the membership said, ‘We’ve got a guy in-house that’s doing a good job’ and asked the board to stop the search.”

Lusk agreed to take the job and is happy that he did. About six months ago, though, his wife, Jenaye, who works as the office manager at Klahowya Secondary School, said she was ready to retire.

“I said, ‘You’ve hung in with me all these years, so I’ll retire when you’re ready,’ ” Lusk said.

When asked what advice he would give to a young person considering a career in the fire service, Lusk says that they can expect to see “all kinds of horrors to all kinds of good things” during long and sometimes stressful hours.

“I’d recommend to them, if they’re looking for a life or career that they could certainly spend helping others, and that’s important to them, I don’t think you could find a better career,” Lusk said.

Tragedy, though, is inevitable in the fire service.

“Our job, I guess, is to turn what is someone’s worst day into one that’s at least a tolerable day that will hopefully get a lot better,” he said. “It’s just such a gratifying career that words can’t even express it.”

Lusk’s retirement will end 43 years of continued service to Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and also mark the end of more than 50 years of family member involvement in the organization. Lusk’s wife served as a volunteer for 31 years achieving the rank of Station Captain. His father-in-law, Glenn Thompson, served as a Volunteer Firefighter and Fire Commissioner, and his brother-in-law, Tom Thompson, and his son-in-law, Aaron Leavell, also served as volunteer firefighters.

Lusk’s last day in the office will be June 28. His successor will be Clackamas County Fire District 1 Deputy Chief Scott Weninger.

Weninger began his fire service career as a volunteer firefighter at Clackamas County Fire District 54 in Redland, Ore., at 18. Weninger moved into the Holcomb Fire Station as a resident volunteer in September 1980 and lived there while attending Clackamas Community College. At 19, Weninger became a career firefighter/EMT with the City of Woodburn Fire Department and returned 30 months later to Fire District 54 as a career Apparatus Operator/EMT. In 1987, Weninger relocated to Oak Lodge Fire District where he was promoted through competitive exams achieving the ranks of Firefighter, Lieutenant, Captain and Battalion Chief. In 1998, Oak Lodge Fire District merged into Clackamas County Fire District 1 and Weninger has since served as Battalion Chief, Chief Training Officer, Fire Marshal, Operations Chief and Support Services Chief.

“He’s gonna do a great job for us and I have high hopes for him,” Lusk said. “Scott’s 30 years in the fire service will be a real asset to Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue.”

 

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