Fire districts' merger plan has potential

In theory, at least, there’s much to be gained by consolidating the operations of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue with neighboring fire districts in Central Kitsap and Bremerton, as a study released last month suggests doing.

In practice, of course, the devil would be in the details — the most important of which have yet to be worked out.

For their part, SKFR officials seem intrigued — if not enthusiastic — about the proposal. “It took us seven and a half hours to go through this study chapter by chapter,” said SKFR

Chief Wayne Senter last week, “but it was well worth it.”

The feasibility study, a joint project of all three districts, was prepared by Emergency Services Consulting inc. (ESCi), which recommended a full integration as a “regional fire

authority” as its preferred option.

Such a plan would have financial benefits, its backers argue, because a larger entity could enjoy economies of scale through bulk purchasing and other practices. There could also be cost savings through the elimination of programs and services being needlessly duplicated under the current arrangement.

Ultimately, however, what matters most isn’t how much money is saved or how many programs are eliminated but how the residents of all three districts would be served by a

regional fire authority.

Call it paranoia, but we can’t help worrying in an arrangement consisting of Silverdale, Bremerton and Port Orchard, that South Kitsap could eventually wind up being the firm’s

junior partner. If so, and if residents in this part of the county wound up getting less service than they do from an independent fire district, it wouldn’t be much of a bargain.

All that remains to be sorted out, of course, and already there seems to be a certain amount of jockeying for position going on among the affected fire districts to ensure each gets what it needs and wants without having to give up too much.

Again, it’s still early in the process and there’s no way of knowing yet how a consolidated fire district would look or operate. We’re encouraged by the idea of finding an innovative

solution to a persistent problem, though, and we’re all for anything that makes public agencies more efficient.

But we recognize things don’t always work out in real life the way they’re drawn up on paper, and the bottom line is public safety. If the goal of merging is to maximize resources to make people safer, then we’re all for it. Anything else is just so much paper shuffling.

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