Fire Authority Staff and Elected Board of Commissioners

SWFA uses a fulltime administrative staff to manage the functions of the Fire Authority. Our administrative staff includes the Fire Chief, an Assistant Fire Chief, a Division Chief, and 2.3 administrative support personnel. In addition to administrating the functions of the fire department, Chief Officers also rotate as the organization’s Battalion Officer for emergency response call coverage.

Rod Topel

Fire Chief

Chief Topel first started his fire service career in February 1989 at the Sudden Valley station as part of Whatcom Fire District 2. Chief Topel is a graduate of WSU, and he has worked as a career firefighter since January 1992 beginning with the City of Mount Vernon. Chief Topel was hired by WCFD 2 as Division Chief of Training, August 2, 2006, promoted to Assistant Fire Chief with SWFA January 2010, and served in that position until replacing retired Fire Chief Dave Ralston, July 1, 2019. Chief Topel is the chief executive officer of the SWFA.

Mitch Nolze

Assistant Fire Chief

Chief Nolze is responsible for the operations of the fire authority as well as being the department’s health and safety officer. His responsibilities include operational deployment standards and coverages; management of all career and volunteer emergency response staff; recruitment and hiring, and fire prevention activities.

Tony Melillo

Division Chief of Training

Chief Melillo is responsible for the management of SWFA’s training programs. Training includes fire suppression, EMS, and specialized rescue operations. Training is delivered to new hires via academy training as well as to established team members in the form of ongoing training for skill development and maintenance, and progression training of new skills including officer development. 

Gerri Gilmore

Administrative Assistant

Gerri is responsible for the maintenance of financial reports, payroll, maintenance of employee benefits, and financial disclosure of our annual report to the State Auditor.

Erika Barquist

Office Assistant

Erika is responsible for processing accounts payable; processing public records requests and disclosure; patient medical records and billing, and reception responsibilities.

Jenny Fields

Office Assistant

Jenny works in a part-time position and is responsible for assisting with the record keeping of training activities, new member processing, and medical/drug testing of new and existing members.

SWFA Elected board of Fire Commissioners

South Whatcom Fire Authority is a municipal corporation formed under the Revised Code of Washington Title 52. The Fire Authority sets boundaries for the purposes of taxing property owners for fire protection services. As a political entity, the Fire Authority has its own elected officials known as fire commissioners. The Fire Commissioners are elected by voters within the boundaries of the district for six-year terms. These terms are staggered so one to two positions comes up for election every two years and consist of 5 positions. The Board sets the organizational vision and culture; determines taxing levels; determines the level of services to be provided; and oversees all other related issues regarding governance of the Fire Authority.




Email contact

Current Term

Position 1

Serving Chuckanut

Brian Martin


Position 2

Serving Lake Samish

James Willson


Position 3

Serving Yew Street Rd.

Bob Ekdahl


Position 4

Serving Sudden Valley

Stefan Paige


Position 5

Serving Geneva

Jim Peeples


Our Mission

Dedicated to maintaining a state of readiness to protect our communities through provision of effective and efficient fire and emergency life safety services.