Fire merger committee deciding where to go from here

The potential West Sound Fire & Rescue (WSFR) may be on hold, but the WSFR planning committee is now trying to figure out what to do next.

The planning committee met Tuesday and discussed four options detailing how the three fire agencies should proceed.

The four options are

• Continue working toward a merger of Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue (CKFR), South Kitsap Fire & Rescue (SKFR) and Bremerton Fire Department (BFD) into WSFR

• Merge two of the three fire agencies with the intent of adding the third in the future

• Initiate functional consolidations/strategic alliances prior to pursuing a full merger of the agencies

• Annex BFD into CKFR or SKFR

The meeting heated up when planning committee chair and SKFR fire commissioner Dusty Wiley said SKFR fire commissioners unanimously approved a motion last week recommending BFD be annexed into CKFR or SKFR. BFD would be allowed to choose which agency it wanted to join.

"It's so important that we make it (WSFR merger) smaller. We're willing to support Bremerton's decision to choose one or the other," SKFR Chief Wayne Senter said. "From our perspective, the project is too big. It's too much to do at once."

CKFR fire commissioner and planning committee member Ralph Rogers said he was upset SKFR fire commissioners voted last week and "blindsided" the planning committee with an "ultimatum."

"Yeah, I don't like it," Bremerton City Council and planning committee member Cecil McConnell said.

Senter said SKFR's decision is a recommendation for the planning committee, not a final decision.

"This is not an ultimatum. It is South Kitsap Fire & Rescue effectively communicating," he said.

Bremerton firefighter and WSFR steering committee member Rob Ashmore said the options and SKFR's thoughts on annexing BFD into another fire agency needed to happen at the WSFR planning committee before individual agencies discussed it.

"It needed to happen here," he said. "I don't think it helped the dynamic in the room."

Wiley said the fire merger is getting "too complicated" with three agencies and if BFD was annexed, which would require a vote of the public from the two involved entities, merging the two agencies could be easier.

"We weren't getting anywhere the way we were going," Wiley said. "I think when you look at things, we're beating a dead horse now."

"While this is a change from the original goal, I think we can still reach the original goal (of creating WSFR)," Senter added.

Some planning committee members expressed concern over scrapping the work already done by the WSFR planning and steering committees to merge the three fire agencies, but Wiley said changing the plan to annex BFD into another agency shouldn't be too difficult.

"There's been a lot of hard work and good work done by these people and I don't think it'd be that big of a deal to pare it down a little bit," he said.

Ashmore said the steering committee would have to "start all over" if the merger or annexation was changed to only involve two agencies.

"All of the work that we've done to this point has been for three departments," he said.

City of Bremerton Assistant Attorney Ken Bagwell said the planning committee should have discussed the fire merger options before individual agencies discussed them.

"The planning committee needs to decide the direction of the planning committee," he said.

Bagwell said if the planning committee decides annexing BFD into CKFR or SKFR is the best option, the fire agency BFD does not choose to join would probably leave the annexation/merger process because it would no longer involve that agency.

The WSFR planning committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at the Kitsap Readiness Center in Bremerton. The committee plans to be ready to discuss and possibly vote on the fire merger/annexation options at that time.

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