Hero is probably the most taxed word in the English language. Plastered on everyone from talentless reality television mavens to recalcitrant multimillionaire running backs it remains a minor miracle when it finds itself attached to a worthy party. No Skyway-area resident would challenge its precision when used in describing their beloved fire chief of the past two years; the soon to be departed Mark Chubb.
Two weeks ago the community suffered collective shock and subsequent grief, when Chubb – who has headed up Skyway’s King County Fire District #20 (KCFD#20) since 2013 – suddenly announced his resignation to take a position as the Chief Safety Officer for the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The overwhelming lament was testimony to the man who has functioned as more than a fire fighter, but as a champion of economic development, strategic planner, de-facto mayor, and mean turkey carver for an often overlooked, and under-appreciated area of the South End. The Emerald spoke with Chubb prior to his community send off tonight. He shared lessons learned and memories cherished from the people and the place he’s served for over two years.
Emerald: Your departure from KCFD#20 came as a shock to many in the community who are still having a tough time processing it. Why did you think now was the right time to move on?
Mark Chubb: I don’t think there is ever a good time for a change of this sort, especially when it disrupts valued relationships like those I have with people in Skyway/West Hill. That said, I think the fire district is in a good position. The fiscal situation has stabilized, relations among staff are good and community support for the fire district is as strong or stronger than ever. These things give me confidence that the community and the fire district are well positioned to carry on without me.
Emerald: Looking back on your tenure at KCFD#20 what are you most proud of?
Chubb: That’s is a tough question. I haven’t had much time to reflect on everything that’s happened yet. If I have a legacy, it’s probably associated with me being the first permanently appointed fire chief that came from outside the community and the ranks of the fire district. When I arrived, many people wondered whether I would find acceptance. I never doubted this, but people took time to get used to the idea. Now that I’m leaving, I think people are better equipped for the change that’s about to happen because the past two years have given them a better sense of what they want in a fire chief and how that reflects who they are.
Emerald: You’ve been a constant fixture at everything from community turkey dinners, to neighborhood cleanups, to back-to-school giveaways. What will you miss most about the community?
Chubb: No doubt about it, I’ll miss the food! Seriously, though, it’s really the people that mean the most to me. People who live in Skyway/West Hill know the community has its challenges, but they also see opportunities all around. They know that making the most of these opportunities means we have to work together. I’ve really loved working with such passionate, resilient people. These relationships will endure, but I will miss the people and the opportunity to just spend time together, learning from them, sharing their struggles and absorbing their wisdom.
Emerald: You couldn’t get farther away from the West Hill neighborhood of Skyway than Bangladesh. Let’s say you come back 3 years from now to visit, what would you like to be able to say about the area you’ve served over these past years?
Chubb: I will be back. In fact, this project in Bangladesh ends in July 2018, and I definitely expect to return to this community, just not as fire chief. I plan to stay connected with the community while I am away, and hope I can make some small contributions to the what’s happening here even at a distance. If I have any hopes for what the community will look like when I get back, I’d have to say I hope for two things above all else: 1) that the community will still reflect the great diversity of cultures, incomes, races and religions it does today, and 2) that businesses and institutions will develop here to engage, employ and serve those living here.
Emerald: You’re beloved throughout the community. Could you reflect a bit more on your legacy? How would you like your work to be remembered?
Chubb: I hope the community realizes that what they find favor with in me is nothing more than a reflection of their values and virtues. The fire service is the way in which the community serves the needs of its most vulnerable citizens, and when it has the right kind of community support it reflects the best qualities of that community. I hope people see the courage and conviction I have tried to express in my advocacy for this community as nothing but a reflection of the bravery and resilience I see every day in the people who live here.
Emerald: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that remain in the community you’re leaving?
Chubb: As one of the last unincorporated urban “islands” in King County, the biggest challenges involve the quality of local governance. The expressed commitment of county officials to racial justice and social equity really comes down to actions not words. Skyway/West Hill deserves a responsive local government that looks after its needs. Until and unless people living here see county officials working “with” them instead of “on” them they must advocate for themselves and insist upon accountability and change. This means moving beyond a narrow focus on minimizing harm to a broader and more positive agenda that develops a stronger sense of people, place and community.
Emerald: What lessons learned from the community will you be taking with you to Bangladesh?
Chubb: At the fire district’s annual awards banquet last weekend, I told those attending that I will take three lessons away with me…
a. Do not confuse determination with persistence. Be prepared to alter your plan and amend your approach as you go along. Don’t be so dedicated to the “what” that you overlook the importance of “how” – how you are with one another and how others see you.
b. As you persevere, do not mistake waiting for wanting. Your success will be determined by how and what you do, not how long you wait. Do not become complacent. Seek opportunities to adapt and improve. Define success by what you will do differently in the future, not what you have done already.
c. In your patience, be present. Take the opportunity while waiting for what you want to see and feel and truly connect with the people and events going on around you. These relationships and what you learn from them will mean more to you in the long-run than any position or prominence you will ever achieve.
My time in Skyway/West Hill has made me a better person and a better professional. Along with these lessons, I am taking many cherished memories and relationships with me to Bangladesh.
Emerald: Goodbyes are never easy. Any final words you would like to leave the community with?
Chubb: Stay passionate. Take pride in yourself and the community. And serve one another in a cause greater than yourself. In other words: keep doing what you’re doing.