Snohomish County fire commissioner clarifies controversial comments

Tomorrow night, Shohomish County Fire Commissioners will meet to discuss possible punishment after two of their own made controversial comments about immigrants.

EVERETT, Wash. — Three days after a videotape was released that shows two Snohomish County fire commissioners making controversial comments, David Chan is fighting back. "This is a character assassination.  I am being persecuted by two sentences," said Commissioner Chan.

During a break in a meeting on March 7, an open microphone captured a conversation between Chan and Commissioner Bob Meador. “Can we hire Mexican paramedics?” said Chan on the video.  Meador responded, “I don't know.”

Chan told Meador, “It’s cheaper.”  Meador responded, “I don't want those immigrants.  They can't do the job, you know."

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In an exclusive interview with KIRO 7’s Dave Wagner, Commissioner Chan said, “I admit it sounds awful. Commissioner Meador has this very dry humor, dry sense of humor.  So he switches to a Stephen Colbert thing. I knew he wasn’t serious.”

Chan is an immigrant himself, coming to America from Hong Kong 45 years ago.  He said he has pushed for diversity in the fire department and has openly advocated for recruiting paramedics outside the country. Chan said it would be more expensive to hire a private company to fill the void.  "I was serious about that. But it's very sensitive issues because of the unions."

Chan said Snohomish County fire commissioners have been in negotiations with the firefighter’s union for the past two years.  He is not one of the commissioners endorsed by union leadership.  "I didn't get one dime, one nickel from them," said Chan.  He believes union leaders are trying to force him out of office.  "They want to get rid of the only voice in the fire district that wants to diversify.  They're recruiting someone to run against me."" said Chan.

KIRO 7 first met Chan at the Democratic National Convention last July.  He was a Sanders supporter who advocated for uniting with Hillary Clinton.  Today, he is facing anything but unity.  "Once you've been labeled racist, nobody's gonna listen to you another word."

Chan said he was blindsided last Friday by the video and said the commission vice-chair drafted a resolution to punish him before hearing his side of the story.  "That's before the meeting, before we had the chance to say one word.  The last two days, it's completely ruined my life," said Chan who has since apologized.

While Chan said he is willing to go to sensitivity training, he won’t step down.  “No, I’m a fighter. This whole thing is basically a character assassination of me and Commissioner Meador."

Snohomish County fire commissioners are paid $104 per meeting.  Chan has been a commissioner for 12 years.