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SKFR gearing up for another $12 million levy

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue is mulling two options for its next Emergency Medical Services levy, both of which would include hiring 24 more firefighters and staffing a fire station in Manchester.

The difference between the two, as SKFR Chief Wayne Senter explained at the last SKFR board of commissioners meeting earlier this month, is that one involves building a new fire station while the other would require remodeling an existing one.

“Both options would increase our levy amount by up to 50 cents and raise an estimated $11.9 million over the six-year period,” Senter told the board, explaining that the difference in the two options hinges on whether or not the district would again receive a federal grant — known as Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER — that helped subsidize nine new hires after its successful lid lift two years ago.

“Option 1 assumes we receive a SAFER grant (to help pay the salaries of the new staff members) and therefore have enough money to build a new facility,” Senter said.

The district has identified a site in Manchester for a new station, and Senter said borrowing $5 million at 5 percent interest would cover purchasing the property, constructing the new building and acquiring both a new tender and new EMS unit.

According to the numbers Senter prepared, paying off the loan would require annual payments of nearly $400,000 for 20 years.

Since the deadline for next year’s SAFER grants has already passed, Senter said his district has already applied in anticipation of the levy passing, as it did previously.

“Option 2, however, assumes we did not receive the grant, which presents us with a funding problem,” Senter said, explaining that without the grant subsidizing the salaries of two dozen new firefighters, the district would spend $250,000 to remodel the existing Station 9 in Manchester, which currently operates as a volunteer facility.

Both options would add a total of 24 new firefighter/EMTs by 2013.

In 2010, if the levy is approved, the first 12 would be hired, adding four new staff members to each shift and increasing the minimum staffing from 17 to 21.

The new personnel would boost the staffing at both Station 31 on Tremont Street and Station 11 on Bethel Road.

By 2012, six more hires would be made, adding two more staff members to each shift.

The new personnel would be used to begin cross-staffing the new or remodeled Station 9 in Manchester, and the minimum staffing would remain at 21.

The following year in 2013, Senter said six more people would be hired, adding two staff members to each shift.

This would allow Station 9 to be staffed “on a 24/7 basis,” and increase minimum staffing from 21 to 23 people.

SKFR identified Manchester earlier this year as one of the communities most in need of improved service.

“The risk in Manchester is substantial,” said former SKFR Deputy Chief Dan Olson in February, describing the area as a “suburban community that is receiving rural service,” meaning response times can often reach 12 minutes.

Olson said that length of time is extremely dangerous in both fires and medical emergencies, since it is about four minutes past the crucial “8-minute” mark for both responses.

Drive times, and therefore response times, could be improved to much of Manchester if the current Station 9 is staffed, but Battalion Chief Eric Quitsland said that option is not ideal for many reasons.

Not only does the current building lack proper sewer facilities, it is too small and attempts by the district to buy the adjacent land necessary to expand the station have been stymied.

As an alternative, Quitlsand said the district is looking at property more centrally located within Manchester, which would lower drive times to five to six minutes to all but the very tip of the peninsula.

Quitsland estimated the cost for a new station, including acquiring the property, then building and equipping the station, at $4.8 million.

SKFR Commissioner Gerald Preuss, a resident of Manchester, described the area as both “a growing community and an older community that is not comfortable with Station 8 (on Fircrest and just outside the Port Orchard City limits) being the closest station.”

And Preuss said the feeling of residents that they are underserved has only gotten worse since the U.S. Navy pulled its firefighters out of its nearby fuel depot.

“They feel like they lost their buffer when the Navy left,” he said.

Senter did not request action on the current levy plan from the SKFR board at its Aug. 14 meeting, but said he will present it for approval soon.

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