If officials wanted someone to emphasize leadership and organization when they were choosing Bothell’s next fire chief back in September, they got their man.
After a little over two months on the job, city Fire Chief Bob Van Horne, 57, said he intends to put together a strategic plan addressing the nuts-and-bolts condition of his department and its future. For now, Van Horne seems decidedly interested in setting a tone.
“This is not the chief’s department,” he said repeatedly.
Referring to his staff, Van Horne hopes each and every member of the department feels they belong to the department and that the department belongs to them.
“I’ve seen that organizations excel when people take ownership,” he said. Borrowing from a well-known advertising slogan, Van Horne adds he wants drivers, not passengers.
Van Horne said he almost constantly is reading books on leadership and organization, as one result promoting what he calls “intentional leadership.” He falls back again on a car-related analogy. He said way back when, he once decided to buy a certain type of car. Once he made that decision, naturally enough, he started seeing that make of car everywhere. Van Horne claims there is a remarkably similar aspect to leadership.
“Leaders who are dedicated see leadership principles in all kinds of things,” Van Horne said. “Once you have a mind set for leadership, you notice things you can use everywhere.”
Stating that he is still settling into the chief’s role, Van Horne talks a lot about setting up a performance bull’s eye at which he wants the department to aim.
“We are being very conscious about living in the bull’s eye right now,” Van Horne said, adding a hope that every member of his staff consistently works toward departmental goals and bringing members together to succeed.
Before being tabbed as Bothell’s fire chief, Van Horne was a deputy fire chief in charge of safety and support services in Renton. After beginning as a volunteer, he spent some 28 years with the Renton department, 23 of those on the streets answering calls.
“I value that part of my life,” Van Horne said, but he won’t let himself miss it.
“I don’t even let myself think about it… You just tell yourself this, where you are, is the place you want to be.”
Van Horne adds he never really set out to be chief here or anywhere else. He said he was happy with his job in Renton, that when he first heard about the position here, he really didn’t pay much attention. Then a friend suggested he apply, and that was enough to get Van Horne thinking.
“That was the seed that got planted in my head,” Van Horne said. After talking with his wife, he decided to go for it and, so far, he’s glad he did.
“It’s a cool job,” Van Horne said.
Later, he added he’s a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecies. Van Horne contends if you tell yourself something will be a great experience, then it will be.
“I jumped into Bothell with both feet without looking back,” he said.
At one point, Van Horne jokes that the toughest part of the job so far has been learning everyone’s names.
“I’m asking a lot of questions,” he said more seriously. “It’s a steep learning curve for me.”
While Bothell is now the center of his professional life, Van Horne still calls Renton home. His grown children live in Tacoma, which puts Renton halfway between his work and his family, he said.
“I feel very honored to be here … I feel like I left a caring community in Renton and I came to a caring community here.”