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Fire district considering 2009 levy

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue officials spent much of Wednesday discussing if and when they should ask voters to approve a 50-cent Emergency Medical Services levy to boost staffing, improve existing facilities and add a new fire station in Manchester.

“We have a lot of stations that have been around a long time,” SKFR Chief Wayne Senter told the district’s board of commissioners during the retreat, explaining that his staff has been deferring normal maintenance for years to funnel more of its funds toward emergency services.

“Our Citizen Budget Review Committee (CBRC) just cringed when we told them we were delaying maintenance,” Senter said, adding that deferment creates two problems as degrading facilities can begin to affect service delivery, and the degradation does not shrink if left alone, but “every year gets bigger.”

In addition to funding maintenance and improvements to existing stations — such as increasing the height clearance at Station 11 on Bethel so the newest, largest fire trucks can enter the bays — Senter said the facilities plan includes converting Station 9, which borders Manchester, from a volunteer to a staffed one.

“The risk in Manchester is substantial,” said Deputy Chief Dan Olson, describing the area as a “suburban community that is receiving rural service” — meaning response times can often reach 12 minutes.

Olson said that length of time is extremely dangerous in both fires and medical emergencies, since it is about four minutes past the crucial “8-minute” mark for both responses.

“It a patient stops breathing, brain death begins to occur after four minutes, and after 8 minutes, it’s pretty much a done deal,” Olson said. “And in a fire, statistics show that it takes about 8 minutes for a fire to leave the room of origin. And once it does that, deaths not only double, but the damage caused to property increases exponentially.”

Drive times, and therefore response times, could be improved to much of Manchester if the current Station 9 is staffed, but Battalion Chief Eric Quitsland said that option is not ideal for many reasons.

Not only does the current building lack proper sewer facilities, it is too small and attempts by the district to buy the adjacent land necessary to expand the station have been rebuffed.

“However, such problems may have been a blessing in disguise,” Quitsland said, explaining that even if the district were able to expand the existing station, response times would not be sufficiently improved.

“Manchester,” he said, “in a lot of ways really does function as a peninsula, with (for us) one way in and one way out. And not only is Station 9 not centrally located, it is close to the shore, meaning nearly half of its response perimeter is serving the sound.”

Also, the drive times alone for reaching only half way up the Manchester “peninsula” would hover around five to six minutes.

When added to the time it typically takes to place a 911 call — about one minute — and the time it takes to dispatch personnel — 90 seconds — Quitsland said the response times quickly reach the danger zone.

As an alternative, Quitlsand said the district is looking at property more centrally located within Manchester, which would lower drive times to five to six minutes to all but the very tip of the peninsula.

Quitsland estimated the cost for a new station, including acquiring the property, then building and equipping the station, at $4.8 million.

SKFR Commissioner Gerald Preuss, a resident of Manchester, described the area as both “a growing community and an older community that is not comfortable with Station 8 (on Fircrest and just outside the Port Orchard City limits) being the closest station.”

And Preuss said the feeling of residents that they are underserved has only gotten worse since the U.S. Navy pulled its firefighters out of its nearby fuel depot.

“They feel like they lost their buffer when the Navy left,” he said.

To staff Station 9 and increase personnel at buildings such as Station 31, which Olson said currently operates with only two staff members, the district estimates a total cost of $9.4 million for the five-year period from 2010 to 2015.

Senter estimated that a levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of property value, if approved, would raise about $11.9 million over that five-year period. Acknowledging that amount would not be enough to fully fund the staffing and building improvements, he said his district would apply for the same federal grant that helped subsidize nine new hires after the May 2006 levy lid lift, and most likely apply for a loan to complete the new station.

No action was taken at the meeting, since Senter said his job was “to present the facts” to the commissioners, “but the ultimate decision is up to you.”

He said he plans to prepare and present the plan for approval at a future board meeting.

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