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Fire agency merger talk continuing

“This just gets the ball rolling,” said SKFR Chief Wayne Senter, explaining at the board’s last meeting Sept. 27 that the resolution paves the way not for a regional fire authority (RFA), but for a RFA Planning Committee.

If ultimately approved by Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department, the committee will have nine members, three from each agency.

“This will be nine people just talking about (a merger),” clarified Commissioner Dusty Wiley. “(Before such an authority is created), it must go back to each board, then to the voters.”

“This isn’t going to happen tomorrow,” agreed Commissioner Dave Gelsleichter, before the board voted unanimously to approve the resolution. “The only thing that could happen right away is that it ends right away.”

Thursday’s vote came just two weeks after the last of the three agencies approved even considering the idea of a merger, as the Bremerton City Council joined SKFR and CKFR in voting to move forward with the discussion.

At the Sept. 12 Bremerton City Council meeting, Bremerton Fire Department Chief Al Duke voiced his support for the three agencies forming a fire authority rather than annexing, such as the former Port Orchard Fire Department did with SKFR, then known as Fire District 7.

“(In that case) there was a need to annex a smaller department into a larger fire department,” Duke said, explaining that a regional fire authority allows for enough local control and flexibility to ensure that each entity’s needs are met.

“It looks like this would give us enough control to really participate in the planning process, because that’s where the real details fall out is in planning,” said Mike Sheppard, a member of the Bremerton City Council.

The next step, Duke pointed out, will be for Bremerton and CKFR to approve creating a planning committee, which SKFR just completed.

Talk of the three agencies combining forces gained momentum after a “Kitsap Cooperative Services Feasibility Study” was completed earlier this year by Emergency Services Consulting inc.(ESCi).

While the study suggested there could be benefits to the three organizations not officially “merging” into one organization yet agreeing to cooperatively deliver services, ESCi ultimately recommended a full integration as a “regional fire authority” as the preferred option.

According to the report, the three departments are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and a “full legal integration (into) a single fire agency,” would result in an overall savings to each agency as it “eliminates redundancies while improving the overall level of service.”

Bremerton Patriot Editor Charles Melton contributed to this report.

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