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CKFR recommends further exploration

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue (CKFR), South Kitsap Fire & Rescue (SKFR) and Bremerton Fire Department (BFD) continue to ponder their future as one entity.

The CKFR Board of Fire Commissioners approved a motion at the regularly scheduled meeting August 13 to continue exploring what it will take to create a regional fire authority that could include CKFR, SKFR and BFD. Three of the five CKFR Fire Commissioners approved the motion with one abstention and one absence, according to a news release.

“At this point, we are not recommending combining the fire jurisdictions, rather we are recommending further exploration into the issues that need to be addressed to make a future merger successful,” said CKFR Fire Chief Ken Burdette.

Emergency Services Consulting inc. (ESCi) presented a report to Bremerton City Council June 27 that recommended the merging of the three fire agencies.

Robert Merritt, project manager for ESCi, presented a brief overview of the 234-page feasibility study, giving his recommendation to fully integrate the three agencies. BFD, CKFR and SKFR regularly cooperate with one another and a full integration is the best option, according to Merritt.

“Kitsap County is literally light years ahead in Washington,” Merritt said. “There’s a lot of cooperative things already going on.”

CKFR Firefighter Rick O’Rourke, vice president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Kitsap County, IAFF Local 2819, told CKFR Fire Commissioners at the August 13 meeting that Local 2819 “unanimously supports continued exploration of the ESCi recommendations,” according to a news release.

CKFR, SKFR and BFD support hundreds of thousands of people. At this time, the SKFR Board of Fire Commissioners also has approved a motion to continue exploring a possible merger of the fire agencies. BFD has not made a recommendation and the Bremerton City Council has not yet voted on the issue.

CKFR originally formed after a series of mergers between fire departments and Burdette said merging CKFR, SKFR and BFD could be beneficial for the fire agencies and the community.

During his presentation in June, Merritt mentioned one challenge of full integration is that each fire agency has its own traditions and cultures, which could be lost when merged together.

“There are certainly some challenges,” Burdette said. “We have some slightly different cultures and different ways of doing things.”

If full integration of the three fire agencies is not chosen, Merritt and ESCi recommended integrating some operational delivery services or finding opportunities for cooperative efforts.

Burdette said merging CKFR, SKFR and BFD could “save money in the long run,” but it may be years before a final decision is made.

“Once all jurisdictions make a decision, we will work to form a committee comprised of members from each respective department as outlined by the fire authority model,” he said. “It could be a couple years before we are ready to decide whether to take this issue before the voters.”

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