Fire chief Collins announces his retirement SNOHOMISH - Mark Collins’ last day as fire chief on Jan. 2 might be met with cookies and punch, maybe some goofy pictures from the ’80s, but certainly a lot of grateful community members who will be sad to see him go.
Collins has been part of Snohomish Fire District 4 for more than 30 years, but his time as chief started during a turbulent phase within the department.
When the previous chief was fired, Collins was picked to fill in as interim chief. He was a deputy chief at the time, and what he didn’t know was that the fire commission was watching him to see if he could handle being in the top command.
“I had my doubts that I could turn the ship around,” Collins said. “It had been ugly for a while.”
Collins had written a resume and started applying for different jobs before the opportunity to be fire chief was presented to him.
It was a good thing that none of his ventures “quite seemed to fit,” because he got the fire crew to stop fighting and start working together.
“My success (as chief) has a lot to do with the people that I work with that have been very supportive,” Collins said. “It could’ve been easy for them to say this is just another guy, but we pulled together.”
In June 2005, a commissioner came to him and said: “We were kind of testing you and you passed. We’d like you to be the fire chief.”
Collins said he loves his job and enjoys going to work every day.
“I’ve had a few bad days, but they’re few and far between,” Collins said.
Nonetheless, he said, it’s time to move on.
Collins’ career has been rooted in serving and protecting. He began as a lifeguard when he was 15, then he did volunteer firefighting as a senior in high school in Issaquah, which he continued on and off for five years. He was hired on as a firefighter with Snohomish Fire District 4 in 1981, and he worked his way up to where he is today.
Deputy chief Ron Simmons will take over for Collins, at least temporarily. He’ll act as the interim chief just as Collins once did, until the fire commission makes a decision.
Simmons, who will remain Collins’ right-hand-man until January, said Collins is “the older brother I never had,” and that the two have become pretty close friends.
Collins even interviewed Simmons before he was hired in 1985.
“Years later he told me that he actually voted no to me getting hired,” Simmons said, and joked: “I never held it against him.”
Collins said he’ll stay involved in the community. He said he hopes to continue teaching and training emergency preparedness and safety, especially within the CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) program.
The chief, who married his high school sweetheart when they were both in college at Central Washington University, has three grown kids. He said he plans on spending plenty of time in North Carolina visiting his daughter and grandkids in the upcoming summers.
Collins said helping people is in his blood: “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
But he seems ready to let go for now.
“The commission decided that they’re going to let (Simmons) run the organization, to see if he can do it, and I have all the confidence in the world that he can,” Collins said.
Simmons is up for the challenge.
“Mark has led this department through some rough times and put things back on a fairly even keel,” Simmons said. “Considering that, at least initially, I will be taking over. But his direction for the department will be one that I will follow pretty closely.”