A Valley Regional Fire Authority firefighter standing in front of a fire truck.

Fire Chief Swearingen Retires after a 37-year career

Confident that he is leaving the VRFA in a good place and poised in the right direction, Fire Chief Brent Swearingen has decided to retire.

“I believe we have set a clear direction and succession plan that will carry the organization forward. One that our employees, governance board, and the community can support,” said Swearingen.

When he accepted the position of Fire Chief in 2019, Swearingen had a checklist to accomplish. Establishing a path for the organization’s future was high on that list. With the support of the Governance Board, Swearingen engaged the VRFA in the Center for Public Safety Excellence Accreditation process.  The process involved updating and implementing a five-year Strategic Plan, creating a Standards of Cover (SOC) document, and completing a Capital Facilities Plan (CFP).  With the plans in place, Swearingen set his sights on replacing an aging ladder truck and purchasing land for new fire stations. The ladder truck, a Pierce 107’ Truck Drawn Aerial (Tiller), is currently being built and set for delivery in early 2022. Senior staff is in the process of assessing available parcels of land to build new fire stations.

While setting the course for the VRFA, Swearingen also strived to achieve his most important goal; increasing trust throughout the organization. He reached out to the firefighters union, and together they identified areas for improvement.

“When I first came to the VRFA, I saw the firefighters’ union running a hot dog stand to raise funds for the Auburn Humane Society. I was impressed with their level of community involvement. I soon noticed a strong work ethic, and willingness to look toward the future of the VRFA. We have made great strides together and have a great working relationship,” said Swearingen.

Chief Swearingen was also struck by the level of support he found from the VRFA Governance Board and the citizens of Algona, Auburn, and Pacific.

“I felt as if I had been given a ‘golden ticket.’ There were so many existing strengths to build upon. I wouldn’t have traded the VRFA for any other department,” said Swearingen.

Swearingen was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania and served in the US Army as a Russian Language Intercept Operator with top security clearance. He began his career as a firefighter with the Reno Fire Department in 1984. He moved up the ranks serving as a captain, training officer, battalion chief, operations division chief, acting fire chief, and a temporary position as Special Assistant to the City Manager. During his time in Reno, he also spent 13 years as his union’s president. He joined the VRFA as Deputy Chief of Operations in January of 2012.

Throughout his career, he became involved in many different aspects of the fire service. He worked as a technician in hazardous materials and technical rescue; then went on to serve as an instructor for these skills plus firefighting tactics nationally and internationally. Out of all the roles he has had, the position he identified as most fun was working as the Tiller operator on an aerial ladder company, driving from the back of the truck.  Beyond that, the most satisfying job was serving as a captain. “Your crew becomes a family that you are charged with taking care of and keeping safe every day. You become emotionally attached, said Swearingen.”

Swearingen is a graduate of the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, a Master of Arts degree in Homeland Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, a Master’s Certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from the University of Denver, and a Certificate from Harvard in Negotiation. He is active in the greater Auburn community, serving as a current member of Auburn Kiwanis, where he is Vice President of the Kactus Foundation. He also previously held a position on the board of Nexus Youth and Family Services.

He plans to continue volunteering his time in the community, as well as enjoying his blacksmith shop and other hobbies.

“Chief Swearingen has led VRFA with a servant heart. He embodies the qualities of VRFA – selfless service, integrity, and grit! I have learned much from Chief and appreciate that he was willing to serve for longer than originally planned. He is exactly what the Authority needed. I will miss him, but I know he is still committed to this community, so I look forward to seeing what else he will accomplish. He is also leaving VRFA in the capable hands of a great leadership team that includes Chief Brad Thompson,” said Mayor Nancy Backus.

With his successor prepared, Chief Swearingen has a few words of advice for the staff of the VRFA, “I hope they don’t hold back, keep doing what they are doing, and realize their potential.”