By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Lawrence Karp — a battalion chief with the Bensenville Fire Protection District in Bensenville, Ill., which is near Chicago's O'Hare International airport — will earn $62,500 annually and receive health and retirement benefits at the mostly volunteer fire department, said Herb Beck, chairman of the Quilcene Fire Department board of commissioners.
Karp's contract was finalized by a unanimous vote of Beck and fellow commissioners Gary Phillips and Debbie Randall on Tuesday.
Of the original 46 applicants, “all of them highly qualified,” Karp “stood out to me for his leadership capabilities,” Beck said.
The 50-year-old career firefighter has more than 27 years experience, all in Illinois, either at Bensenville, where he has worked since 1985, or at Stickney Fire Department — both close to his birthplace near Chicago.
Having announced a March 7 retirement date from the Bensenville Department, Karp sought a new challenge as a full chief or deputy chief, he said Friday.
He and his wife, Denise, thought the Pacific Northwest would be “a nice place to settle down,” and found Quilcene attractive when they visited in October, Karp said.
It's a much smaller community than he is used to. His present department has more than 4,000 calls annually.
Quilcene has about 330 calls a year, according to Beck.
“A bunch of calls were really good when I was younger,” Karp said. “I'd like to settle down and slow down a little bit.”
He also looks forward to the challenge of stepping into the department, which has “had some issues in the past,” Karp said.
Former Quilcene fire chief Bob Low resigned his position on June 23, 2011, citing differences with former commissioners Mike Whittaker and Dave Ward, both of whom were recalled in Nov. 13 and were replaced by Phillips and Randall.
Low, who earned $57,602 annually with a $9,000 housing allowance in Quilcene, has taken a $70,000-a-year position as assistant chief of support services for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.
Karp had been among the top three candidates for the vacant post under the leadership of the former fire commission that included Whittaker and Ward, Beck said.
“The current commission had the opportunity to interview all of the applicants, but they went ahead with the top three that had been chosen,” all of whom had been evaluated and approved by a group of volunteers, Beck said.
“It's been a long, drawn-out affair,” he added.
“We had the recall. That stopped [the hiring process]. We had to wait until we got the other two commissioners aboard.”
Deputy Chief Bob Moser had headed the department until a permanent chief was hired.
Said Karp: “I know they've been operating without a chief for quite a while, although I heard from many that [Moser] has been doing an excellent job.
“But I know he'd like to move out of that job and they need a stable figure at the top to help make sure the morale is as high as we can have it.”
Karp said that Moser has said he wants to stay involved with the department.
“I told him absolutely you can be involved in the department; you're a great asset.
“I can't afford to lose him,” Karp said. “He's given me some good advice.”
Beck also talked of Karp's grant-writing ability and volunteer activities.
Karp said he has written grants that obtained more than $305,000 in equipment and hopes to pursue similar grants for Quilcene.
An Eagle Scout, Karp has served as an assistant scoutmaster since 1990 and hopes he can serve in a similar capacity on the North Olympic Peninsula.
He also wants to visit Brinnon's Camp Parsons at 970 Bee Mill Road.
“I have read that the oldest Scout camp west of the Mississippi River is in Brinnon,” Karp said.
“I have camped for many years in the oldest Scout camp in the United States, Camp Owasippi in Michigan,” founded in 1911, he said.
“So I'd be very interested in seeing the Brinnon camp.”
Karp and his wife have rented a home in Quilcene and plan to travel there in March.
Staying in Illinois will be their 24-year-old son. He recently got a job on a fire department in a Chicago suburb, his dad said proudly.
Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.