Interim Fire Chief Appointed as District Faces Major Expansion Decisions

Fire Commissioners explore options with department leadership change and more than $2.2 million Key Center real estate acquisition for new headquarters.

KP News graphic adapted from Apple Map
Posted

This article has been updated to correct the name of the second parcel purchased by KPFD 16 known as the Olson estate.

The Key Peninsula Fire District 16 board of commissioners appointed Assistant Chief Hal Wolverton interim fire chief for KPFD effective Dec. 1 by unanimous vote at the regular board meeting Nov. 23. Wolverton served as interim fire chief once before during the time between the retirement of Fire Chief Guy Allen in 2018 and the hiring of Fire Chief Dustin Morrow in April 2019.

Morrow signed a 5-year employment agreement for the position of fire chief at Central Pierce Fire & Rescue on Nov. 8 and reports for duty Dec. 1 at district headquarters located in Spanaway.

The idea that Morrow may be able to continue to provide chief services through an interlocal agreement (ILA) between Central Pierce Fire & Rescue and KPFD received strong support from Doug Gelsleichter, president of the Local Firefighters Union No. 3152.

“On behalf of the Local, I want to thank Chief Morrow for the last couple of years and the direction he has pushed the department and fully support his decision and what he is doing,” Gelsleichter said. “We would like to urge the board to consider working with Central Pierce in some form of chief services or ILA. Congrats to Hal Wolverton, we look forward to working with you.”

Commissioner Frank Grubaugh said he wanted to reiterate to Morrow that he leaves behind a better board and that he will be missed. “Once again, Hal is interim chief. He’s done a good job before and he’ll do a good one now. Thank you, Hal.”

Firefighter Paramedic Adam Morse said that consolidation of administrative services in the fire service both here and nationally is inevitable and needed to trim operational costs to ease the growing burden on taxpayers. In his view, while talks of a merger are a long way off, if even a possibility, “we are currently faced with a catalyst opportunity here.”

“Chief Morrow has voiced to us, multiple times, how he did not seek out the chance to leave our district but was presented with an opportunity,” Morse said. “He saw an opportunity for this department and the area as a whole.”

“Chief Morrow wants to take us, the department, with him and maintain chief services to the district,” Morse said. “If he believes he can manage the two departments at one time, I’m inclined to believe him.”

Similar testimonials from career firefighters and paramedics were made two weeks earlier when 40 people, largely district personnel, attended the Nov. 9 fire commission meeting via Zoom.

Firefighter Paramedic Nate Jean said, “I would never have thought that we would be going from eight people on duty and 24 line staff to now, less than three years later, having 33 line staff coming up here with 11 people on shift. That’s just unheard of.”

Commissioner Keith Davies said he was not ready to dismiss the ILA at this time. “The decision tonight to put an interim chief was the fact that things were happening so fast that rather than go into a wrong decision in an ILA we wanted to take more time and evaluate where it’s really going.”

Davies agreed with Morse that the long-term survival of the fire service depends on figuring out how to join and become part of something bigger. “But I also understand the unique community that’s very passionate about its identity,” he said. Davies suggested finding ways to inform and educate citizens. “If they don’t want to be a part of it then they need to know what that’s going to look like as opposed to what it would be like if we became a part of it.”

KP resident Joel Prybylski said he is familiar with regional fire authority (RFA) and interlocal agreements and they typically begin by identifying what you have in common with that district, like adjoining boundaries.

“As I sit here … I don’t really see much that the KP has in common with Central Pierce, other than the fact that the chief you guys hired 30 months ago is leaving for them,” he said. “As a resident, I don’t like the idea of being in a RFA or ILA with Central Pierce. You do that because of the other district, not because the person you hired is leaving to go to that other district.”

Prybylski said he understands it’s depressing that the chief is leaving, “but it seems like we are going about this backwards.”

At the meeting Nov. 9, Commission Chair Stan Moffett directed Morrow to “draft an interlocal agreement for the board to review and discuss in detail at the Nov. 23 meeting and likely vote to approve at the next board meeting,” Moffett said.

Commissioner Shawn Jensen said the comments made were good points, that it doesn’t have to be with Central Pierce, but to find those common elements preferably between neighboring districts to expand on mutual aid and the like.

“It’s just the nature of the beast the way the fire service is going,” Jensen said. "You have to stay open to those conversations when they come, and make sure, not only for our citizens and our taxpayers, but what makes the most sense for our district operationally. That’s an element for me about why I don’t think the conversation about an ILA is off the table.”

The commissioners have been active in other areas beyond exploring options for fire chief. The former site of O’Callahan’s Restaurant located at the intersection of Key Peninsula Highway NW and Olson Drive NW now belongs to the fire department for a purchase price of $950,000. The department has several parties interested in leasing the building to operate a restaurant until such time as commissioners decide whether to pursue the construction of a new headquarters to replace the existing Station 46.

A second parcel the department refers to as the Olson estate is scheduled to close in early December at a purchase price of $1.2 million that includes the single-family residence sandwiched between Sunnycrest Nursery and Sound Credit Union, across the street from the current fire headquarters, and the pasture behind it.

Commissioners retained the services of the Bremerton-based architecture firm of Rice, Fergus, Miller, the same firm that designed The Mustard Seed Project assisted living facility on the hill above Key Center.

Morrow informed commissioners that “Rice, Fergus, Miller indicated that we’re in the phase where decisions will have to be made. Staff will present a report to the board to drive the decision that says, ‘Please price out these options.’ ” 

The staff presentation will likely take place at the Dec. 14 fire commission meeting. Information on how to attend the public meeting via Zoom is available on the district website at keypeninsulafire.org.


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