Key Peninsula Fire District 16 Assistant Chief Chris Beswick moved into Station 45 near the northwest corner of State Route 302 and Wright Bliss Road NW with his wife and daughter Aug. 1. Beswick signed a lease with KPFD July 6 and anticipates staying there until a new home he has under construction is ready at the end of this year or beginning of next.
The monthly rent is $2,500, which covers a common living area, kitchen and bathroom, an office and a four-bunk dormitory, totaling 1,326 square feet. “That was something that we let our attorney come up with, what he anticipated to be fair rent for the market,” said Fire Chief Nick Swinhart.
By comparison, a 1,500 square-foot house near SR-302 and 146th was available for rent in September at $2,385 per month; a Vaughn one-bedroom of 720 square feet was $1,600; and a Port Orchard three-bedroom apartment of 1,181 square feet was $2,642.
The lease also stipulates a 40% discount in rent, or a reduction to $1,500 a month, in exchange for Beswick responding to emergency calls when he “is in the station and available to respond.”
That is in addition to his contracted duty officer responsibilities as a chief to respond to emergency calls when needed for backup, a duty he shares with Swinhart.
“These sorts of arrangements are fairly common in our profession, particularly in the smaller rural departments,” Swinhart said. Beswick had been commuting back and forth every weekend from Nehalem, Oregon, and staying with family in Tacoma since he started with KPFD April 10 of this year and searched for a home on or near the KP.
“The Chief had jokingly said early on, ‘Well, hey, you could maybe live out in one of the fire stations and respond on calls,’ and we laughed,” Beswick said. “And after a couple of months of commuting, I was like, ‘Hey, Chief, could you be serious about those living arrangements?’ ”
“This basically allows us to have a response capacity out of that station, which we’ve never had before outside of the occasional volunteers that might pick up an engine out of there,” Swinhart said.
“I’ve lived in fire stations for 30 years so it’s not a big thrill for me but for my family, it’s an adventure,” Beswick said. “You would think it wouldn’t be an issue, but ironically the biggest problem is the lack of storage. There’s nowhere for your clothes and all your stuff.”
He and his family will also be living under district policy for its stations: no alcohol, no smoking, and no firearms on the premises.
Swinhart had been trying to staff Station 45 with live-in volunteers since at least January but came up against a lack of interest and qualified personnel. He was careful to point out that any calls Beswick responds to out of 45 on his own time would be in addition to his contracted duty chief requirements.
“That’s part of his normal responsibilities; he doesn’t get paid extra for being duty chief,” he said. “He’s getting a break on the rent, which is allowed by law.”
KPFD’s attorney, Eric Quinn, said in an email to KP News that:
“Assistant Chief Beswick is providing two different services: Services as an assistant chief and service as a responder when necessary, out of the otherwise vacant station. In consideration of his agreement to provide responder services in addition to administrative services, his rent is presently discounted from fair market value, which constitutes additional compensation for an additional service that he has agreed to provide. Consequently, the district is not paying Assistant Chief Beswick more than his agreed-upon assistant chief salary.”
Between Jan. 1, 2023, and press time there were 15 calls dispatching a KPFD duty chief. Swinhart responded to five, Beswick to four, according to KPFD. Six were not responded to by a duty chief.
“We might provide some command support, … whether it’s as a safety officer, division officer, helping manage some portion of the scene for the battalion chief,” Swinhart said. “Sometimes we’ll call the battalion chief and say, ‘Hey, do you need me down there?’ and sometimes the answer is no.”
Beswick is approved to drive KPFD vehicles, such as the water tender at 45, but is not certified in Washington state to respond as a paramedic or EMT at this time.
“Since as a chief I’m not responding in the field anymore, I didn’t feel that I could remain a competent paramedic,” Beswick said. “I plan on keeping my EMT, but I haven’t completed the necessary paperwork to do that yet. But if the tones go off at the station and it’s something that I can make a difference on by responding, I will.”
The chiefs are typically called for water rescues, structure fires, or mass casualty motor vehicle accidents: “Anything like that where we can just be an extra resource for command,” Beswick said. “The last two I responded on were a brush fire where we had a lot of resources coming in from other agencies, so I showed up to help coordinate that. And the one before that was the fatal house fire (in Palmer Lake). Something like that we’re going to show up on.” (See “One Dead, One Injured After Fire Destroys Home,” August 2023.)
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