Fire district merger talk heating up

It won’t be easy, but South Kitsap Fire and Rescue officials seem to think there would be enough potential benefits to make officially joining forces with Bremerton’s and Central Kitsap’s fire departments worthwhile.

At least that was the tone of a discussion Wednesday night as SKFR Chief Wayne Senter, Deputy Chief Dan Olson and other staff leaders met with all but one of the district’s board of commissioners to continue carefully reviewing a consultant’s analysis of such a merger’s feasibility.

Initially launched last year by Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department, the “feasibility study” by Emergency Services Consulting inc.(ESCi) was later expanded to include SKFR before its completion last month.

After reviewing each department’s revenue, territory and operations, ESCi determined the three are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and even a partial merger could save considerable time and money.

Referring to such a merger as a “regional fire authority,” the group gathered Wednesday seemed to agree that integrating with the other departments would be difficult and delicate, but would ultimately improve service to their residents.

“I see a regional fire authority as combining the best of everybody,” Olson said, adding that it will take strong leadership and direction to create a “new template, but we will get a good product from it.”

Reviewing what the study identified as five “success factors” for such a partnership, Senter pointed to the first — leadership believing strongly in the partnership and often acting “selflessly” to maintain it — as particularly important.

“That is huge,” he said. “We need to put our egos in check and do what’s right for the people.”

Senter admitted that setting aside one’s own needs and wants is never exactly easy, but he also expressed confidence in his department’s ability to do just that, and as proof pointed to its recent “Drop Borders Now” agreement with Bremerton Fire.

“We know we can do it, because we did it,” Senter said, explaining that the best way to accomplish cooperative partnerships is to “get (everything) out on the table and talk about it.”

“Drop Borders Now” began in April after SKFR and Bremerton agreed to mutually ignore their official territory lines on certain calls and instead send crews based on proximity. For SKFR, that meant responding to Bremerton calls in Gorst, and Bremerton responding to calls in Navy Yard City and Rocky Point.

Some issues did need to be smoothed out beforehand, Senter said, explaining that one sticking point was Bremerton’s use of private ambulances for Basic Life Support(BLS) transports, a practice his district did not employ.

“In that instance, it was our mind change that occurred,” said Battalion Chief Mike Wernet, and Senter explained that once his staff determined that his district’s residents would be charged the same for transports via private ambulances as they were for transports on SKFR rigs, they agreed to the change.

Senter said other examples of cooperative efforts already implemented include multi-departmental training and regular discussions between the three chiefs about various issues.

Originally three meetings were planned to discuss the report, but a fourth meeting was scheduled for Aug. 2 when the review was not completed this week.

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