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Fire District 12 puts merger on hold
"Disappointing, but not unexpected.That's the verdict on Kitsap County Fire District 12's decision to table a proposed merger with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue.That doesn't mean it will not happen, maybe sometime in the future, said District 12 Fire Commissioner Robert Muhleman. Muhleman said there was no single reason the last all-volunteer fire district in the county decided to put off the merger again. District 12 serves Chico, Erland's Point and areas of Kitsap and Wildcat lakes. But he added, The volunteers have expressed strong opposition. The (volunteers) firefighter association is nearly 100 percent opposed.Muhleman said that was a factor in the board of fire commissioners' decision at their last meeting, April 5.We took it into consideration, he said, adding the commissioners like to do what's best for the district, not necessarily for the firefighters.It's a sentiment Muhleman expressed when District 12 initiated discussion of a merger with CKFR several months ago.It's always difficult when you go from a volunteer, close-knit group into a larger (group), he said.But we feel it's beneficial to the people in our district to provide a higher level of service by belonging to a larger organization. We'll still depend very much on the volunteers, and I hope we don't lose any because we need all of them, plus more, Muhleman said.Volunteers were concerned about the future of the volunteer firefighter in residence program, District 12's newer equipment, and how much of a part the volunteers would have in a merged department.In a combination department, all of a sudden the volunteers would take a back-seat role, Muhleman said.In the residence program, volunteers aren't paid but live at the station.We depend a lot on the residents. ... We get a better response time because of them, Muhleman said.But in negotiations, CKFR wanted to change the residence program to a Firefighter in Training program. Volunteers would have to be enrolled in a college firefighting training program to be residents.Another issue was the inability of the two boards to reach an agreement on how to integrate District 12's chief, the board secretary and program manager into the larger district.It's just the general climate, not one single issue. The commissioners are very acutely aware of their responsibility to the district, Muhleman said.Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue Commissioner John Wilkins Sr. said he was a little disapointed but not completely surprised by District 12's decision last Thursday.There were a lot of small issues; they were trying to get them all taken care of. I'm confident over the next few months they'll get it accomplished, said Wilkins. "