Chief says levy failure would be devastating to SKFR

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief said the last thing his department wants to do in a few months is ask residents for more money.

But if he doesn’t, the fire district will have to close four fire stations and lay off 30 staff members.

“This is absolutely the worst time to do this,” Senter told the SKFR board of commissioners at their last meeting Thursday night. “But if the (Emergency Medical Services) levy is not renewed, it will devastate our department.

The current EMS levy, which Senter said now collects 30 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value, will expire at the end of 2009. If it is not renewed, he said, pink slips will soon follow.

“We will have to lay off 30 people and close four career stations,” he said, explaining that the three stations in the urban core — Station 8 on Fircrest, Station 31 on Tremont and Station 11 on Bethel Road — will remain staffed, while Station 10 on Banner Road, Station 14 on Burley-Olalla Road, Station 16 in Gorst and Station 17 on Glenwood Road will all close.

“We have 75 career staff, so 30 people is a fairly big chunk of that,” said Deputy Chief Steve Wright. “We would have to hunker down in our headquarters, and stations 31 and 11.”

Along with closing four stations, Wright said if the EMS levy is not renewed, the district would cease paramedic services.

“Our paramedics would be gone, and we would not provide (Advanced Life Support) transports,” he said. “We would basically be the only district in the county that does not provide that service.”

If SKFR loses its paramedics and becomes at its core a fire service, Senter said people calling 911 after a heart attack will have to depend on private ambulances, which he said are “slower and come from much farther away.”

Currently, Senter said the closest private ambulance would be responding from Bremerton.

To maintain its department at current staffing levels, and to eventually add 24 firefighter EMTs by 2013, Senter said his district is asking voters to approve an EMS levy totaling 50 cents, which adds 20 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value.

“Currently, the levy amount is 30 cents per thousand,” Senter said, explaining that the additional 20 cents, on a $300,000 home, would cost most homeowners another $5 a month, which amounts to $60 a year.

“The citizens need to decide what kind of service they want,” he said. “We are painfully aware of the economic situation, but if that money is not renewed, it is gone.”

Wright said Monday that while in months previous the district was looking to improve its response times into Manchester by either building a new fire station or remodeling the existing volunteer station near Yukon Harbor, now remodeling is looking more and more likely.

“Building a new station was dependent on our receiving a grant, but we would have expected to hear by now if that were the case,” he said.

Wright said the EMS levy runs on a six-year cycle, and the end of 2009 is when it is scheduled to run out. If the levy renewal is not passed, he said, it would set the department back “30 years, to before the district had paramedics on staff.”

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