After 33 years with Key Peninsula Fire District 16, Assistant Fire Chief Hal Wolverton, 59, will retire March 31.
Reflecting on his decades-long career spent entirely at KPFD, Wolverton said, “I think I’m the most boring person in the world.”
During those 33 years, the “most boring person in the world” advanced from firefighter to battalion chief, and then to assistant chief in 2014. He received the district’s Meritorious Service Award; the Distinguished Conduct award twice; the Top Trainer and Chief’s Awards three times each; the Commissioners’ Award three times; Firefighter of the Year four times; and Officer of the Year five times.
“Time flies by,” he said.
A familiar face to both KPFD and the community at large, Wolverton first moved from Gig Harbor to the Key Peninsula in 1973, where he attended Evergreen Elementary School. The family stayed on the KP until 1979, when his dad got a job in Ferndale.
Wolverton attended Lynden High School where he met his future wife, Monica. The couple graduated in 1982 and married in 1985.
Wolverton was working as a petroleum inspector straight out of high school but was laid off after getting married.
He took the next job that came along, which was at a fuel storage plant in Tacoma. He later went to U.S. Oil and Refining as a gasoline blender. “It was an OK job, paid pretty well, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Wolverton said.
But he’d had a taste of firefighting as a volunteer in Bellingham.
“I was in a coffee shop reading that Bellingham Fire was recruiting people,” he said. “I went right to a fire station, no idea about the etiquette at all, and just went up to the back door and knocked, and luckily somebody answered.”
He spent the next hour and a half talking to a firefighter about the fire service, and he signed on.
“It was like a second home, a second family; it was fun, it was giving back to the community, and I was just hooked,” he said.
When the young couple found their way back to the Key Peninsula in 1990, Wolverton volunteered for KPFD and was hired in 1992.
“We had 60 volunteers,” he said. “It was a good crowd. I think we had a handful of career personnel, maybe three per shift.”
Call volume was low then. “If we got three calls a day, we were slammed.”
He said his worst call was responding to the explosion of an illegal fireworks manufacturer at a trailer in Lake of the Woods.
“I was fresh out of EMT school, and I was working with Mike Riegle, he was a paramedic,” he said. “I remember we rolled up and, man, the end of the trailer was blown to smithereens; there was debris everywhere. There were two victims. Mike says I got this one, you got that one. The poor kid, I think he was just 16 years old. He looked exactly like you’d think after that explosion. I remember that in detail. You think you’re going to save people and he ended up passing away. I took that personally. It took me a long time to realize — and it wasn’t until after the coroner’s report came back — there was nothing that could be done for him. But I took that really hard.”
There are good days too, where you know you made a difference.
“I remember this call at Penrose (State Park), this guy’s stuck up to his thigh in the mud and the tide’s coming in,” Wolverton said. When he arrived, the victim was a couple hundred yards offshore and the water was above his waist.
“We called in the Anderson Island fire boat and we had one of our swimmers, who happened to be my son (volunteer Saul Wolverton), take our fire hose out to the boat to connect to their pump and then we attached a penetrating nozzle —a long spear with a sharp point and a nozzle at the end of it. We started it up, shoved this thing down by the guy’s leg, and he popped out like a big, giant geoduck.”
“That’s the fun part of the job, when you know you really made a difference to someone’s life,” Wolverton said.
A less fun part of the job overtook him Dec. 14, 2021.
Wolverton had been appointed interim fire chief by the board of fire commissioners Nov. 23 to fill the gap left by departing Fire Chief Dustin Morrow. Wolverton had already served once as interim chief between the retirement of Fire Chief Guy Allen in 2018 and Morrow’s start in April 2019.
But he was put on paid administrative leave Dec. 14 immediately when the board heard allegations of discriminatory behavior.
The board reinstated Wolverton March 22 after an independent investigation vindicated him.
“The report concluded that none of the allegations made could be sustained to have violated the law or department policy,” said Fire Commission Chair Stan Moffett at the time.
When KP News asked about the details of the investigation and the events leading up to it and after, Wolverton would only say, “During the last year and a half, I lost a lot of friends, but I gained more because I realized who really supported me. People I didn’t even know were reaching out to me. I owe everything I have to the community. They’ve allowed me to spend 30 years doing something I love, buy a house, build a family, and I want to thank everybody for letting me do that. And I don’t think I’m done serving the community in some fashion. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know I’m not done.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS