PORT ORCHARD — One of the most-asked questions of Steve Wright, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s fire chief, is, “When are we going to get people back to our fire stations?”
The question refers to three SKFR fire stations that were closed because of budget cuts made several years ago. As part of that budget reduction, 12 firefighters/EMTs were laid off, remaining staff was thinly spread across the Kitsap County Fire District 5 territory, and some of the fire stations previously manned with a mix of career firefighters and volunteers were pruned to just non-paid staff.
To help return the fire district to its pre-reduction status, Wright said he is placing on the Aug. 1 ballot a fire and emergency medical services levy renewal measure, which provides the district three-quarters of its operational funding. The levy rate was dropped to $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value when it was put before voters six years ago. Wright said he will submit a levy rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of property value, which had been the standard rate before the most-recent decrease.
With a simple-majority passage of the levy renewal, Wright said the fire district — the largest and busiest in Kitsap County — will be better able to respond to its growing log of phone calls. Last year, the fire district responded to approximately 10,000 calls for assistance, or 27-plus calls each day.
“When you’re the second one in your neighborhood to call 911, it’s not a good place to be, because the crew (assigned to the neighborhood) is already out,” Wright said.
“And when they’re out, the next unit is further away. We have that going on continually because we haven’t kept pace.”
The fire chief said South Kitsap Fire and Rescue doesn’t compare favorably statistically with neighboring fire districts. He said they have higher firefighter per citizen ratios than does SKFR, even though their call rates are lower.
SKFR, which the fire chief calls a combination fire district, has 72 career firefighters and 50 volunteers among its ranks. Its 2017 budget is $15.47 million.
“I think the citizens want a good level of service,” Wright said. “We have been very successful with our citizens. They’ve trusted us with the bond issue for apparatus and equipment replacement at 71 percent approval. They supported us with our EMS levy at 77 percent.
“I believe the citizens think we’re doing good work and they’re supportive of what we’re up to.”
Wright is at the beginning stages of a campaign to educate district voters about the benefits of renewing the levy. He expects to speak to more than two dozen community groups in the next two and a half months, “so I’m on the trail.”
A committee in support of the levy passage also has been formed.
In the meantime, SKFR has finally received all of its rolling stock of new fire equipment, paid for by a bond measure voters approved by 58 percent in November 2015.
Six fire engines and five water tenders are parked at the fire district’s Station 8 on Fircrest Drive SE.
The new vehicles haven’t reached operational status yet since crews are still being trained to operate them and modifications remain to be completed.