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Fire chiefs address Manchester station closure

Though a crowd did gather in Manchester Thursday night to question local officials about the U.S. Navy closing its nearby fire station, they appeared more resigned than angry.

“I’m sorry you’re taking your service away,” said one resident, explaining that he had just been “a customer nine days ago” and appreciated the fact that the fire truck deployed from the Manchester Fuel Depot had made it to his house at least two minutes before the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue vehicle. “If (the Navy) hadn’t gotten there when they did, I would have felt worse for another two or three minutes.”

Another resident echoed his comments, saying she’d had a house fire seven years ago and that, although the Navy’s firefighters were not able to save her house, they did arrive quick enough to save a lot of the contents that might not have been salvaged otherwise.

“We’re definitely losing something,” agreed South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter, who hosted the public meeting with John Arruda, chief of fire and emergency services for the Navy Region Northwest. “We’re not gaining anything, and I don’t think anybody likes it. (And) if this wasn’t about money, we wouldn’t be having this forum.”

Senter went on to explain that the Navy decided to close the depot’s station completely this fall “for business reasons, (and) quite honestly, I would have made the same decision if I was looking at it as a business.”

Asked why exactly the Navy decided to close the station, Arruda confirmed it was a business decision, explaining that when officials for the Navy Region Northwest surveyed their facilities, they determined that the “low level of risk (or call volume) did not justify the cost of keeping the station open.”

Senter said he examined the numbers as well and determined that out of the approximately 150 calls in SKFR territory the Navy responded to last year, “really only two were life-threatening.”

And though the Navy trucks were able to arrive on average two minutes earlier than his trucks for those incidents, Senter said his staff would not be deployed differently after the closure.

“I feel comfortable saying that we’ve looked at this pretty darn close,” he said, explaining that two calls out of the more than 9,000 that his district responds to annually were not enough to warrant restructuring.

Asked how his staff will be able to handle incidents involving fuels and other hazardous chemicals at the depot in the future, Senter said his staff was trained for structure fires and did not have specialized training for fuel spills or tank fires.

Arruda said for such situations there would be staff members still stationed at the depot who “can provide mitigation in those incidents. Also, we’re not pulling completely out of Manchester. We will still respond from Bremerton.”

Finally, when asked if there was anything the community could do to help SKFR responders in the future, such as acquiring proper signage, Senter said highly visible house signs are always a help.

For the next few months, the fuel depot fire station will be staffed only during the day, then will close completely this fall.

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