Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: New South Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Todd Wernet stands outside the SPFR headquarters station 170 in Eatonville. Wernet was hired May 4 and brings with him more than 30 years of experience.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: New South Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Todd Wernet stands outside the SPFR headquarters station 170 in Eatonville. Wernet was hired May 4 and brings with him more than 30 years of experience.

Raised around firetrucks, stations and sirens in Port Orchard, Todd Wernet is excited about serving as the newest fire chief in rural south Pierce County.

Wernet was hired as South Pierce Fire & Rescue chief on May 4, bringing with him 37 years of experience. He replaces interim Fire Chief Richard Curtis.

Wernet feels nostalgic about returning to the type of community in which he grew up after serving in shipyards and big cities, traveling, instructing, working for the private sector and teaching.

“I’m excited about the community,” Wernet said. “It’s what drew me to South Pierce Fire & Rescue. They are very family and community oriented.”

At 18-years-old, Wernet began as a resident volunteer firefighter for South Kitsap and Port Orchard, where his father served as assistant chief and his mother and brother volunteered for years. His first career firefighter position was at the Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station.

The majority of Wernet's career was spent in Seattle, however. He worked in the Seattle Fire Department for 22 years on truck companies, hazmat and specialty teams. His last 12 years in Seattle were spent as a truck company officer in Belltown. From Seattle he was hired as the assistant chief of operations for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant Fire Department in California.

After six years in Diablo Canyon, Wernet returned to Washington to work for Boeing as the emergency preparedness coordinator for a short time. That was followed by a brief stint at Bates Technical College as the director of fire services and assistant dean.

Wernet said he was considering retirement at the time when he was approached by a recruitment company used by the SPFR commissioners.

As fire chief, Wernet said he will be pulling from all his experiences to lead the fire department.

Wernet has years of experience teaching other firefighters. He spent several weeks each year instructing firefighters on truck company operations, strategy, tactics and firefighter rescue. He also spent years lecturing at the Fresno Training Officer School and training at all the major fire conferences in Seattle.

In addition, Wernet obtained a master’s degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis on fire chief and emergency planning in 2015 from Grand Canyon University.

Education became a bigger focus for Wernet as he became older. His passion had always been helping people, but being proficient tactically and technically wasn’t enough, he said.

Wernet said he strives to share what he has learned to younger firefighters. He said his love for helping people has shifted to helping others help people. It is very important to share his knowledge and skill sets to teach the next generation so they can be their best for the people they serve, Wernet added.

“The day you stop trying to get better is the day you stop trying to be good,” Wernet said. “When you call 9-1-1, the only choice you have is us, and how dare we be anything less than the best we can be?”

Although Wernet has loved every moment of his career, he looks forward to this next step. He said he will able to mentor, focus on the craft of firefighting and make decisions in a more focused way as fire chief in a rural area. Wernet is also excited about returning to his roots and his passion: community.

“Having the fire department at local football games, races and things like that, [makes] a very community-responsive fire department,” Wernet said. “That’s the kind of stuff I like to do.”

When businesses begin to open and restrictions are lifted or loosened from the COVID-19 pandemic, Wernet hopes to have open house, breakfast, holiday and “coffee with the chief” events to connect with the people he is serving.

Since the South Pierce Fire & Rescue fire chief position is a working position, Wernet will be responding to calls a few nights a week, which is not something SPFR has required of chiefs before.

“I’m looking forward to that because it gets me involved with the community [and] it gets me involved with the firefighters,” Wernet said.

Wernet encourages the community to reach out with any questions at 253-847-4333. South Pierce Fire & Rescue serves the incorporated and unincorporated Eatonville, incorporated and unincorporated Roy, Clear Lake, Lacamas, McKenna, Harts Lake, La Grande and Ohop.