Key Peninsula Fire District 16 has often been in the news over the last year about money, as seen in public reaction to its purchase of Key Center real estate at the end of 2021 and calls from some quarters to increase its line personnel to provide more coverage to the peninsula.
But how does it compare?
Key Peninsula News recently surveyed four neighboring fire districts to measure KPFD’s budget and performance against its neighbors.
The KP has a population of 18,310 according to the 2020 census, spread out over 65 square miles. Stations in Wauna, Home and Longbranch are all staffed 24/7. Volunteers do not staff but currently respond out of Station 46 in Key Center, the district headquarters.
In 2022, the department responded to 2,745 calls, about 85% medical, typical across the industry, which works out to an average of seven and a half calls per day or two and a half per station. The average response time was 10 minutes.
The budget estimates $9,677,612 in spending in 2023, an increase of 2.8% over 2022. About 75% of that will go to paying for employee salaries, benefits and insurance, according to Fire Chief Nick Swinhart.
“Line staff is defined as those who work 24-hour shifts; the people out in the fire stations responding to calls,” he said in an email to KP News. “We have 34 authorized line positions. That includes the Division Chief of Training (works day shift) and three battalion chiefs, one supervising each shift.”
KPFD recently hired two firefighters from other departments but has one authorized position that will remain unfilled for the present, for a total of 33 line personnel plus backup from the administrative chiefs.
“When fully staffed we have 11 per shift and three shifts,” Swinhart said. “However, it’s important to note that doesn’t mean we have 11 people working per day. Due to sick leave, vacation, etc., we often only have seven people. We have to maintain at least seven on duty at all times or we have to call in somebody on overtime. If we can’t maintain that seven minimum, we have to close down a fire station.”
Swinhart has been working to staff Station 45, at the corner of State Route 302 and Wright-Bliss Road, with two live-in volunteers.
“We only had one volunteer who had expressed interest and we’re still trying to ascertain whether he’s still interested,” Swinhart said. “As you can imagine, we can’t take just anybody off the street who wants to live in a fire station. They have to be fully trained, medically certified, and preferably an existing member of our volunteer roster.”
Staffing 45 full-time would mean hiring more personnel.
“What I’ve been trying to get across to the folks who’ve been asking about this recently at the meetings, if we want to staff a medic unit at Station 45, for instance, we’d have to hire those additional people (at least seven) or we’d have to pull them from somewhere else,” he said.
Complete details are available in the district’s annual report, which can be found at www.keypeninsulafire.org.
Central Mason County
Just west of the KP, Fire District 5 in Central Mason County serves a similar population of 18,000 over 157 square miles but also covers Shelton by contract, adding another 10,000.
It has a line staff of 47 in four stations 24/7, three with medic units and one with a medic and engine with a minimum of 11 on duty. They responded to 6,063 calls in 2022 plus another 3,256 in mutual aid, about 25 each day or six per station.
“That’s because our medic units cover two-thirds of the county,” said Fire Chief Jeff Snyder. “We’re a regional ALS system (advanced life support), which is very different (from KPFD).”
The 2022 budget was $13,235,791; the cost of employees was about 78% of that, Snyder said.
Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One serves a population of about 53,000 over 48 square miles with 111 line staff and 19 administrative. It staffs five of its nine stations with a minimum of 22 per shift, who responded to 6,516 calls in 2022, an increase of 10% over 2021, or an average of four per station per day, with an average response time of nine minutes.
One significant difference about Gig Harbor is its terrain, mostly jagged coastline that creates “large, permanent obstructions to efficient emergency responses … There are few direct routes anywhere,” according to its website, necessitating multiple crews deployed over a comparatively small area.
The 2023 budget was $48,757,160, a 32% increase over 2022 with 64% paying for salaries after an $80 million capital improvements plan was approved by voters.
South Kitsap County
South Kitsap Fire & Rescue serves 80,375 people over 117 square miles with a line staff of 106 and 40 volunteers staffing six of 12 stations with a minimum of 21, or 19 overnight in some stations, who responded to 12,707 calls in 2022 or 35 per day and six per station on average.
The 2023 budget is $27,256,340; personnel makes up 84% of that.
North Mason County
North Mason Regional Fire Authority did not respond to multiple requests for confirmation from KP News, but according to its website — and employees not authorized to speak to the media — it serves 18,000 people over 136 square miles, though the population increases to nearly 25,000 in summer. It had 23 line staff and a 2022 budget of $4,739,024, about 78% of which was paid for employees. There are nine stations; two are staffed 24/7 and one is part-time, while the remaining six are volunteer stations. The authority responds to 2,400 calls per year, or an average of six and a half a day, and reported that it was preparing to transition to a four-shift schedule.
North Mason built a new 21,000-square-foot headquarters in Belfair in May 2021 for just under $10 million.
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