Bremerton firefighters oppose regional fire authority, SK leaders ask for community input

The Bremerton firefighter’s union has opposed, by a margin of 42 to 10, a plan merge their department with South Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

The idea is still alive, though.

“The firefighters from Bremerton strongly opposed moving forward with the regional fire authority as presented,” said Rob Ashmore, the president of the Bremerton firefighter’s union.

The firefighters liked initial drafts of the regional fire authority that were presented three years ago.

“Since that time, the plans have gone through a lot of changes,” said Ashmore. “The economy has changed drastically and the political landscape has changed as well.”

The firefighters initially thought that the regional fire authority would eliminate inefficiencies in upper management for both departments, and then parlay those into more firefighters responding to 911 calls.

Now, though, there’s not much evidence to suggest that the new plan would improve service levels, Ashmore said.

And the plan's financial backing seems shaky, he said.

“In these economic times, it’s difficult to move forward with this drastic change,” he said, “without a strong financial plan backing it up.”

If Bremerton doesn’t support the merger, firefighter’s union leaders at South Kitsap Fire and Rescue have said that they won't support it, either.

The idea is still alive, though, and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s leaders plan to go through with their scheduled community meetings about the topic.

“Our plan is the same,” said South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter. “The planning committee charged us to seek input from the two firefighter groups, the citizen’s advisory committee and two (public) hearings, one in each district.”

Senter plans to compile the information from the groups, and present it in a verbal report on Friday at 9 a.m., at Fire Station 1 in Bremerton.

Before the meeting, he hopes to receive a letter from the Bremerton firefighter’s union explaining why they oppose the regional fire authority, to make sure that there hasn’t been a misunderstanding.

“We’re not of the mind to force anyone to move toward consolidation,” said Senter. “In the absence of support, our recommendation is to set one more meeting to see what’s behind the ‘no’ and recommend that the planning committee dissolve, if there’s no misunderstandings of what’s behind the ‘no.’ ”

The opposition to the idea from Bremerton firefighters union has dealt a major blow to the plans, though, Senter said.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a done deal, but certainly this is a pretty serious consideration,” he said. “Our commitment was not to move forward unless we had the support of major internal and external stakeholders. We certainly don’t have that, now.”

The next public meeting about the issue is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Olympic Room in the Givens Community Center on Sidney Road in Port Orchard.

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