Fire districts to share station

In a rare move, Kitsap County’s Fire District 7 and Mason County’s Fire District 2 signed an agreement Tuesday to spilt the costs of building and maintaining a fire station serving the Tri-Lakes area.

Tri-Lakes is a settlement of approximately 5,000 straddling the Mason/Kitsap county line. It is currently served by both districts under a “closest unit response” agreement stating whoever has resources closer to the call will answer it.

However, District 7’s closest staffed station is in Gorst and District 2’s counterpart is in Belfair. Response times from those stations average about 12 and 10 minutes, respectively. District 7’s target response time is five minutes or less.

“This has been a weak area of our services for several years,” said Chief Mike Brown.

However, because the entire Tri-Lakes area only generates between 30 and 50 calls a year, Brown said he couldn’t justify paying for another whole fire station for just that area.

However, he said he is enthusiastic about sharing a station with District 2 because it allows his district to improve its service in the most cost-effective way.

“We’re just proud to be part of this cooperative agreement,” he said.

Until recently, District 2 had kept a single truck in a metal shed-type garage on Bear Creek Dewatto Road in Tri-Lakes, but the volunteer-only facility was inadequate. The truck barely fit through the door, and there was no space for any other equipment.

Finding another option became necessary last year when the owner of the property the shed sat on died and his heirs gave the fire department notice to remove the eyesore garage.

“It looks more like a storage bunker than a fire station,” said District 4 Fire Chief Michael Greene. “It was a pretty junky station.”

The new station will have enough space to house a regular fire truck and a water tender, plus gear and equipment for all the volunteer firefighters which report to it. It will also have an emergency generator and a parking lot built to serve as a helicopter landing pad.

District 2 has already bought the 1 1/3 acres it will be built on. The property, which is less than a mile away from the old station site, was carved out of a piece of timberland and sold as a favor to the district. The district is getting the land for $10,000, a little more than half its appraised value.

The rest of the project, including construction and equipment costs, is expected to be approximately $150,000. The two districts will be supplying the station with existing trucks, so they will not need to pay for new ones.

Nevertheless, money appears to be the only barrier to the project.

Brown said District 7 will be able to pay its half out of normal budget expenses, but Greene said District 2 is having financial problems and will have to wait for the Mason County taxpayers to approve enough money for the project before it can go forward.

Greene said he will know whether the district has the money after the special elections in March.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re not going to commit to building the station,” he said.

Assuming District 2 does get the money it needs, the station could be up and running in as little as six months. Like most of District 2’s other stations, the building will be built of metal sheeting. The interior will also remain unfinished as another way of cutting costs.

After the station is built, both districts plan to start actively recruiting additional volunteer firefighters in the area. Currently, District 2 has four trained volunteers, but eventually hopes to have at least 20. Greene said he is working with local homeowners’ associations to encourage those with enthusiasm to sign up. Brown said he is planning a similar campaign in the Kitsap half of Tri-Lakes.

“We’ll train anyone,” Brown said.

District 7 officials are also working to absorb District 2 into CenCom’s coverage area. Right now, calls are routed to whichever county the caller lives in, regardless of which station he or she is closest to. Brown said this can cause a great deal of aggravation and delays as the 911 centers in both counties are forced to call back and forth to each other to get the necessary response.

He said he hopes some sort of arrangement will be approved within the year.

“I don’t think CenCom is looking for it, but it makes more sense for the calls to be coming out of one center, and CenCom is the logical choice,” Brown said.

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