Updated: Jan 3
Several citizens in our Fire District have voiced concerns about what is currently happening with Pierce County Fire District 16, your Key Peninsula Fire District. With this message, I as Board Chair, hope to inform you as best I can as to those concerns.
Property Purchases for future Headquarters Replacement
Over the past several months, your Fire District has completed the purchase of two properties consisting of three parcels of land in Key Center. The first property is made up of two parcels that have been referred to historically as the Olson property and most recently as the Loy property. One parcel of this property lies behind Sunnycrest Nursery and the second parcel, to the south and abutting KP Highway and currently includes a home. The third parcel is on the corner of KP Highway and Olsen Drive and was the former location of the restaurant O’Callahans.
These three parcels were purchased by the Fire District for future development. Approximately five years ago, the Board of Commissioners took a close look at our current station/ headquarters in Key Center to determine whether it could be expanded or remodeled and realized that the 50-year-old structure was nearing the end of its useful life.
With the assistance of the Citizens Advisory Panel, a thorough inspection was done as to its ability to be remodeled, and/or expanded. It was felt by all that it just was not a viable option given the age of the structure and its current usage. There are no overnight accommodations at the station so we cannot deploy personnel 24/7 from that location without displacing other crucial administrative spaces. In addition, limited space behind the station and the unsecured open nature of the parking lot and training grounds makes for limited and sometimes challenging safety restrictions during training operations. Also, there is only one public meeting room that is unable to meet the demands of the community.
With these considerations in mind, the Board began the search for location options for a new station/headquarters. We felt, as well as many in the community, that remaining in Key Center was an extremely important consideration for the Fire District, but also for the community as well. The potential for a warming/cooling center, additional/expanded meeting rooms, additional securable, safe space for training, and possibly for the incorporation of a health clinic centrally located within Key Center was an important consideration.
When the aforementioned parcels became available, the Board took the opportunity to advance on purchasing said parcels as the real, and indeed, intrinsic value to the Fire District was extremely high. The Board and many community members felt that given the size of the individual parcels, the prudent option was to acquire both properties to ensure maximum flexibility during subsequent capital facilities planning efforts. Parcels meeting the criteria sufficient to meet the District’s needs come on the market rarely. Since it will take at least 48 to 60 months to actually break ground on whatever is finally decided, the Fire District will lease out the house and the commercial property during that time which will help to cover interest payments on the loan used to purchase the parcels. It should also be noted that the current station/headquarters can then eventually be sold to make room for business development in the immediate Key Center area.
We have been collaborating with the respected architect Rice Fergus Miller, Inc. in developing several possible configurations for the capital facilities plan. Their initial concept proposals will be presented at the next Board Meeting on January 11. In the months ahead, the Board will be soliciting comments from the public regarding exactly what form this facilities plan will take as it evolves and beginning the discussion on what options are available and which is the best way to fund any or all capital facilities improvements that are identifies, including construction of a new Key Center Fire station and Headquarters.
Consideration of an ILA for Administration Services
When the Board became aware of former Chief Morrow’s departure, the option of looking into drafting an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) with Central Pierce Fire and Rescue was discussed. This would allow us to continue to utilize the services of Chief Morrow on a part time basis for a limited period, while investigating the possibility for formulating a longer-term contractual relationship with a neighboring fire district such as Gig Harbor. The advantages to an arrangement like this would be the savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars by sharing the costs of a Fire Chief and potentially an Assistant Fire Chief while bolstering the duty chief role with the availability of additional chief level personnel that we simply don’t have available to us now. It would not impact day to day services to the community but in fact strengthen those services.
The Board’s intentions were, and are, always made in the best interest of the citizens of Key Peninsula. However, it soon became apparent that the current timeline to put together such a relationship was just not possible. It also became apparent that many in the community did not feel that this was the best approach to take. In the end, the Board decided to begin the process of finding a new Chief and utilize the professional services of the company that assisted us on our last Chief search. The Board does, however, feel that we must always look at the feasibility of alternative options such as contracted administrative serves in the future, as fire services cost continue to escalate. The sharing of vital, limited resources is one way in which costs can be tempered especially in a rural fire district such as ours with limited commercial and industrial properties which serve to lessen the tax burden on individual residential property owners.
Interim Chief Wolverton Placed on Paid Administrative Leave
Shortly after Assistant Chief Hal Wolverton was appointed Interim Fire Chief, certain allegations of discrimination were brought to the attention of the board. Allegations, having nothing to do with the above subjects thus far addressed and were sufficient enough in nature to conduct a formal 3rd party investigation. We were bound by District Policy and State Law to take immediate action. After a long executive session during the regular board meeting on December 14th, the Board, under the advice of our counsel, made the exceedingly difficult decision to place Interim Chief Wolverton on paid administrative leave pending further investigation, regardless of the unfortunate timing.
This investigation is being conducted by an independent third party investigator well experienced in these issues and is ongoing at this time. Unfortunately the forward progress of the investigation has been hampered by the holidays but is expected to be completed in a timely fashion now that the holidays have passed. We want to assure you; this is not a punitive measure, but rather a process that is required given the nature of the allegations.
In the meantime, as previously mentioned to the community, Division Chief Jason Learned, has been appointed Interim Fire Chief and Capt. Robert Bosch has been appointed temporarily to Division Chief of Training and Medical Services.
I hope this information helps to provide some clarity on some of the questions that have been addressed within the community. I encourage everyone to reach out to me or any of the other Commissioners or your Interim Fire Chief with questions you may have regarding the above or anything else regarding your Fire District. We will make every attempt to keep the community up to date as information develops.
May everyone have an incredibly Happy and Joyous New Year!
*This blog was updated 12/31/21 @12:40pm