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Hired from within - Forty-one years on the job with Cental Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Roy Lusk takes over as chief

Roy Lusk, a 41-year veteran of Cental Kitsap Fire and Rescue, was selected last week to lead the fire department as it grapples with an expected budget deficit and upcoming contract talks. - Courtesy photo
Roy Lusk, a 41-year veteran of Cental Kitsap Fire and Rescue, was selected last week to lead the fire department as it grapples with an expected budget deficit and upcoming contract talks.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

A 16-year-old Roy Lusk strolled down the street in Old Town Silverdale when a man approached him and asked what he was doing.

“I’m walking down the street,” Lusk, 58, of Newberry Hill, remembered Tuesday. Then he paused. “Smart alec 16-year-old.”

The man, Bob Burpee, a ranking official in what would later be known as Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, asked if he wanted to be a firefighter.

That’s how it all started, 41 years ago.

From the time he started as a volunteer, at age 16, to when he was hired as the district’s first paid assistant chief in 1982, to Monday, when the district’s Board of Commissioners voted to quit searching and begin drawing a contract to install Interim Chief Lusk and just Chief Lusk, his life has revolved around Central Kitsap’s fire department.

“It’s been somewhat gratifying and humbling at the same time, the amount of support I’ve received,” Lusk said.

Commissioners initially wanted a commitment of up to 10 years as they started the search. Lusk said he planned to retire in about two. But it became clear, commissioners said, that with a looming fiscal cloud and negotiations with uniformed and non-unformed employees to begin within a year, Lusk was the man for the job.

On top of that, just about everybody inside and outside of the department has expressed faith in Lusk, commissioners said.

The district is estimating a $1.4 million budget deficit through the end of 2012. This year the district’s operating budget is $16.2 million.

The budget hole comes from lower property values. On top of that, expenses are going up, with health care costs leading the way.

“When the two lines are going in opposite directions, obviously you have to make a correction somewhere to make them balance,” Commissioner David Fergus said.

Lusk said he is committed to investigating any and all ways to cut expenses. But at the same time, he isn’t willing to consider laying off firefighters until he is assured every other cost saving measure is considered.

One cost savings Lusk initiated himself, forgoing a cost of living increase the chief’s position is entitled to, and taking former Chief Ken Burdette’s annual salary of $135,000. Burdette retired in May after nine years as chief.

He also recommended cutting the assistant chief position he held before taking the temporary chief job.

Although commissioners said the district is not in crisis, they see Lusk as the person with the confidence of employees and knowledge of the system to ensure the situation does not reach a crisis, Commissioner Bob Muhleman said.

“He’s up to challenge,” Muhleman said.

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