By Marguerite Cleveland
Toryono Green, fire chief, has more than 26 years of experience with the Tacoma Fire Department. He and his family, which includes two young daughters adopted from China, are planning to homestead and are in the process of building a small farm where they plan to raise chickens and pigs and grow their own fruit and vegetables. He also volunteers extensively by serving on the Mary Bridge Children's Foundation Board of Directors, which focuses on providing resources and system improvements to better meet the health-care needs of children and parents in our community. He is a senior fellow and board member of the Tacoma/Pierce County chapter of the American Leadership Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes collaborative problem-solving and relationship building amongst community leaders.
Q. Tacoma is known as the ‘Gritty City,’ and downtown went through some rough times. As a Tacoma native, what are some of the exciting things you see happening in Tacoma?
A. I am incredibly proud of the dramatic changes that have occurred and continue to occur throughout Tacoma. The revitalization of the downtown area has made it a destination for dining, art, conferences and entertainment. I believe the most impactful change in the downtown area was the addition of the University of Washington, which brought with it all of the amenities necessary to make the area feel walkable and safe. Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve seen throughout the city is the emergence of strong neighborhood identities (i.e., Proctor, Hilltop, South Tacoma, Eastside, etc.). I believe this, combined with continued support from City leadership, will lead to safer and more connected micro communities within Tacoma. That change is what I believe will make Tacoma shine as a first-class city.
Q. We have a popular local saying, "Live Like the Mountain is Out." What is your favorite thing to do when the mountain is out?
A. I love the outdoors, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. I am a bit of an introvert, and the pace of the fire service can be overwhelming, so getting out for a nice, quiet hike or backpacking trip is probably at the top of my list for ways to recharge. I also enjoy road cycling and have completed a number of local organized rides multiple times, including the Seattle to Portland, Courage Classic, Chilly Hilly and the High Pass Challenge. Ultimately, I really enjoy just being home and preparing my property for farming.
Q. What is the worst fire or natural disaster you have experienced in your more than 26 years with the department? How did the department rise to the challenge?
A. I can’t say that there is one fire that stands out enough to identify it as ‘the worst,’ particularly since approximately 80 percent of the emergency work done by modern fire departments today is related to medical emergencies, not fires. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of pain, suffering, loss and death over my career. Frankly, every incident has had an impact on me. This is an insidious reality for emergency responders that does not get enough recognition. If I am proud of anything in this regard, it is that the Tacoma Fire Department, and the fire service as a whole, has taken the emotional and psychological impact of this work on firefighters seriously by recognizing and openly addressing the resulting PTSD; contracting mental health professionals to assess and support our responders following a significant incident and sending a number of our personnel to receive certified training in critical incident stress management so they can serve as peer supporters. With suicide being one of the leading causes of death for firefighters today, there is probably nothing more urgent for us as a profession.
Q. What is your advice for children, and maybe adults too, who want to be a firefighter when they grow up?
A. First, do well in school, and seriously consider attending college first. While a college degree is not required for employment with us as a firefighter, most of our applicants come to us after having earned a college degree and/or military experience, both of which provide incredible life experience and tend to help applicants interview with greater confidence and depth. More than anything, I would encourage potential applicants of all ages to give serious consideration to their actual desire to serve this community. Firefighters are truly public servants, and those that ultimately get hired by us have demonstrated a heart for service.