After a 36-year career in the fire service, Bothell Fire Chief Bob Van Horne has retired.
His last day on the job was Monday, and he spoke with the Reporter a few days before then.
“I have loved the fire service,” he said. “I am the chief servant of the department, and I make sure that the responders have the resources they need … to have a successful outcome.”
Van Horne, 65, spent most of his career — 28 years — in Renton in a variety of positions and was hired as Bothell’s chief in 2009.
“I never thought I would ever leave Renton,” Van Horne, who still resides there with his wife, said. “I thought I would retire from Renton, but there was an opportunity for me, a door opened, and I walked through it.”
He said he was at first reluctant about applying for the chief position in Bothell, but the encouragement of his coworkers and family pushed him to go for it.
“I worked for a fire chief who said, ‘You know, Bob, you could be a fire chief if you wanted to be,’” Van Horne said. “(Working in Renton) provided me a great foundation to be a chief because I had such a breadth of experience. … I will never forget the 28 years that I spent there. I’ll always be thankful that they hired me.”
During his time in Bothell, his proudest accomplishments include the handling of the Main Street fire last summer.
“The Main Street fire was the fire of a career for many people in the fire service,” he said. “It could’ve been worse, but each emergency responder came on the scene and did what they needed to do.”
He was also amazed by the outpouring of community support following the fire.
“One of the coolest things that I experienced, there was such a community outpouring of support for public service,” he said. “I’ve never experienced that in all my years in the fire service; Bothell is a special community. … It’s something that will stay with me for a lifetime.”
Van Horne is also proud of how his department handled the recession.
“I became fire chief when we were beginning to enter a deep recession,” he said, adding the department gave back some of its benefits in an effort to keep staffing levels flat.
He said that during his tenure, the Bothell Fire Department (BFD) responders have responded to thousands of emergencies and both the fire and EMS staff received high marks in a citizen satisfaction survey for timeliness and the quality of their responses.
BFD Deputy Chief Jim Roepke has been named interim chief until the city hires a new chief.
“(The department’s) going to be in good hands,” Van Horne said of Roepke. “We’ve worked side-by-side, and he’s going to do extremely well.”
As for his retirement plans, he said nothing is set in stone.
“I tell people that I’ve got a blank slate,” Van Horne said. “It’s going to be exciting to see what fills that up.”
He said he does plan on spending more time with his family, from tagging along with his wife on her dog show trips to making more time to see his son and his family in Minnesota and his daughter, who lives in Tacoma.
The first big trip is a family vacation to Disney World.
“The whole family is going to Disney World,” Van Horne said. “We’re looking forward to spending time together to celebrate my retirement.”
He said he won’t miss being tied down to a specific schedule, but he will miss being part of a fire department.
“I’m going to miss being part of this community of service,” he said. “It’s been very satisfying.”
Van Horne said he hopes to be of service in other ways. In addition to spending more time with his family, he is thinking about spending more time volunteering with his church. He previously went to Africa as part of a mission trip, and he said he would be open to doing that again.
“I truly believe that moving into retirement is the next step of life,” he said. “There’s going to be something out there, some other way to serve.”