Fire district considers merger study

A study evaluating a partial or possibly complete merger between South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and two of its neighbors to the north is now complete, and its findings reveal significant advantages to the three fire departments joining forces.

Initially launched by Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Bremerton Fire Department last year, the feasibility study by Emergency Services Consulting inc. (ESCi) was expanded early on to include SKFR, whose board of commissioners approved paying $11,000 for inclusion.

According to the report, the three departments are often duplicating each other’s efforts, particularly in administrative and support services, and even a partial merger could save considerable time and money.

For the recommended “Option 1,” which ESCi describes as a “full legal integration (into) a single fire agency,” the consultants predict an overall savings to each agency as it “eliminates redundancies while improving the overall level of service.”

The study describes the second option — not a legal unification of the agencies but an effort to unify their delivery services — as not necessarily offering overt cost savings, but also improving efficiency and an opportunity to “narrow current gaps in service and extend improved response performance to a greater area.”

At the last meeting of SKFR’s board of commissioners, Chief Wayne Senter said the next “logical step will be to dig into that report chapter by chapter.

“I suggest we have a meeting with all our stakeholders — staff, union representatives, elected officials and volunteers — and our challenge will be to determine which direction we want to go,” Senter continued, explaining that ultimately it will be up to the commissioners to set any policy changes. “There are many different ways to look at this, but you all set the policies — this really is your decision.”

Starting Friday, SKFR scheduled three meetings to discuss the report, the final being held tonight at Station 31 — on Tremont Street just past Sidney Avenue — starting at 6 p.m.

Prior to SKFR’s decision to join the study last year, Bremerton City Council President Cecil McConnell sent a letter to CKFR’s Board of Commissioners requesting that the third district be involved in the study, and CKFR Chief Ken Burdette agreed.

“It’s obvious it would be a tremendous oversight to exclude (SKFR),” Burdette said, explaining that there are many areas in which the borders of the three departments meet. “These three districts are probably more convoluted than most, there are places where we intertwine.”

Those areas include Rocky Point and Navy Yard City, where SKFR serves as the primary responder.

The completed study points out that such mergers are far from unprecedented in the county. On the contrary, its fire districts have a long history of such mergers, demonstrated by the fact that “in 1964, there were 27 fire agencies. In 2006, there are six.

This provides a clear and purposeful pathway set by the fathers of fire leadership in Kitsap County to mature and integrate fire and EMS services into a regional model.”

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