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New CenCom CEO is ready to roll

Richard Kirton inherits a 911 service with a brand new home. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Richard Kirton inherits a 911 service with a brand new home.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

t Agency’s former chief deputy set to assume duties.

Richard Kirton couldn’t have been promoted at a better time.

The long-time Kitsap County Central Communications employee stepped up from the No. 2 slot to the director’s chair on June 30. In this new position, he knows he got a sweet deal.

The responsibility, he realizes, is a vast one.

CenCom is responsible for answering all the 911 and non-emergency calls in Kitsap County and coordinating between the caller and fire and rescue, Sheriff’s deputies, police officers and animal rescue.

At the end of June, the busy call center had received more than 98,600 calls for law enforcement aid, according to statistics on the CenCom Web site.

The facility Kirton inherited is top-notch, tucked away behind Auto Center Drive in Bremerton.

It’s just a few years old — an address so new it doesn’t yet appear on Internet maps.

It’s the result of a 2003 voter-approved one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax and is a far cry from the near-dilapitated, cramped former home at the foot of Bremerton’s Warren Avenue Bridge.

The sales tax also creates a sustainable funding source for the organization’s operations, as well as its constant need to accommodate new advances in communications.

And that need is a vast one.

Citing the fast-advancing world of cell phone technology, Kirton explained that the ability for 911 call centers to adapt is behind the corporate power curve.

It’s just been in the past few years that cell phone towers have been able to connect callers with the nearest 911 call center.

The next challenge in the technology world, he said, lies in incorporating text messaging via cell phones so the hearing and speaking impaired can communicate effectively in the event of an emergency.

CenCom is able to accept emergency calls made with teletypewriters, he said.

Kirton began working for CenCom in 1998 and was promoted to assistant director in 2005.

Prior to coming to Kitsap, he worked for a 911 call center in Kent.

“I had experience working with other 911 centers that was recent enough to be relevant but I’d also been here long enough to know how everything works and to know where we are on technology,” said the self-proclaimed gadget geek.

On his first day, Kirton hit the ground running. He’s now responsible for setting the organization’s direction, the budget and overseeing how his organization works with other agencies.

The transition between Kirton and the previous director, Ron McAffee, began about six months prior to Kirton’s appointment. Although Kirton didn’t think he was the heir apparent, it just made sense that McAffee should pass the day-to-day operations knowledge to someone in the organization.

“We’re a 24/7 emergency operation. We don’t have the luxury of being able to take a step back,” he said.

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