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Bremerton City Council approves exploration of fire consolidation

The Bremerton Fire Department and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue will conduct a six-month analysis on the feasibility of a merger, by a unanimous Bremerton City Council vote Wednesday.

The vote advances a nearly four-year-old attempt at consolidating local fire districts into one regional fire authority. After a three-way merger between Bremerton, South Kitsap and the Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue fell apart last year, the fire districts are now trying a phased approach, with Bremerton choosing who it will merge with first.

Last week, the Fire Department Consolidation Committee, made up of firefighters and city officials, recommended to the City Council that the Bremerton Fire Department explore a merger with South Kitsap first. The decision came after both South Kitsap and Central Kitsap submitted consolidation proposals to the committee.

"It was clear that South Kitsap Fire and Rescue made the most sense," Assistant City Attorney Ken Bagwell said.

The committee recommended South Kitsap because agreements already in place between the two fire districts, in which Bremerton serves unincorporated communities such as Navy Yard City, Bagwell said.

City officials said the recommendation was also influenced by a recent Bremerton firefighters' poll, in which firefighters voted four to one in favor of merging with South Kitsap.

The approved six-month study is the first in a long series of steps toward getting a merger on the ballot. If the study indicates that a merger with South Kitsap would make financial sense for both districts and provide equal or better service to residents, the City Council would have to reestablish a regional fire authority planning committee. The committee would develop a work plan detailing how the merged fire districts would operate. That work plan would then have to be approved by South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the City Council before going to voters.

The merger will not make this November's ballot, Bagwell said.

If a South Kitsap and Bremerton merger is successful, Central Kitsap will be annexed next.

Committee members said this phased approach will have a better likelihood of success.

"Sometimes you can only take one date to the prom," Councilman and committee member Adam Brockus said.

Councilman Will Maupin predicted the consolidation would yield better service and faster response times for residents.

The six-month study earned full support, with councilmembers advising that if a merger is determined financially unfeasible, it will be abandoned.

"If it turns out that our citizens and our employees do not benefit then my support will go away," said Councilman Cecil McConnell, also a committee member.

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