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Fire Commissioners Explore Options

The Board of Fire Commissioners is uniquely aware that there are numerous questions from community members about several initiatives that we are currently exploring. As such, the Board has assembled the most frequent questions heard and would like to share the following information with the community.

The intent in providing this information is to be transparent with information as we move through the various initiatives, reduce rumors, and invite the community to participate in the process through attendance at our Regular Board Meetings held the second and fourth Tuesday’s of each month. The meetings are held at 5PM via ZOOM. Links to the meetings and the Board Packets can be located on the District’s website.

The District's current situation is dynamic. While we all appreciate the varying levels of interest, confusion or concern throughout the community, some information is not presently available as discovery is ongoing.

Please take the time to read through the information below in detail, and should you have additional questions, please seek clarification directly from myself as Board Chair or through one of the other four Fire Commissioners.

What is the status of Chief Morrow's Job Offer with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue?

Chief Morrow is still in a conditional job offer status. He is the final candidate and moving his way through a comprehensive employment assessment. All indications are that he will complete the remaining assessments and will soon have a complete job offer.

Chief Morrow has communicated to the Board that should he receive a formal job offer from Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, he intends to accept the position with consideration for our District's ongoing leadership and management needs immediately after his departure.

We have heard that the Board Chairs from our District and Central Pierce Fire & Rescue have met. What was discussed at this meeting?

True. There was a meeting on October 15th between our District and Central Pierce Fire & Rescue. This meeting explored what a temporary transition plan might entail should Chief Morrow become the Chief at Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.

There was also discussion about the willingness of Central Pierce Fire & Rescue to offer our District an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) that would allow for Chief Morrow to continue to be available to our District during this time of transition. The Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Board Chair made it abundantly clear that they are willing to provide any support needed to our District.

What is the timing of Chief Morrow moving to Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, and when would any ILA become effective if the Board chooses that option?

There are many variables involved in answering this question. It depends on Chief Morrow completing his employment assessment, receiving a formal job offer from Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, timing of an ILA negotiation and creation, etc.

Given current information, it is anticipated that the Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Board may act on the process with Chief Morrow on November 8th. If this occurs, then Chief Morrow could officially begin work at Central Pierce Fire & Rescue as early as December 1, 2021.

The timing of any possible ILA again is highly variable. Should Chief Morrow move to Central Pierce Fire & Rescue on December 1st, the Board will want to move quickly to make a decision about an ILA or establish an Interim Chief for our District to maintain administrative oversight and continuity of service to our citizens.

Why not just make Assistant Chief Wolverton our new Fire Chief, or at least our Interim Fire Chief while the Board sorts this out?

That is one of several options that are being considered. Again, there are many variables that weigh in on this decision, including Chief Wolverton’s interest in the position, his ability to pick up, or redistribute the administrative workload vacated by Chief Morrow, incident response considerations, and many more.

If we do sign an ILA with another Fire District, does this mean that we are no longer Pierce County Fire District No. 16 or Key Peninsula Fire?

No. Our District will remain a legal entity wholly separate from Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, or any other entity we partner with. The ILA is a lawful means for two Districts to engage in a formal relationship of some sort. It is no different than the numerous ILA's we currently have with other Districts.

One essential point to make here is that the identity of our District and how we are embedded in the community is critical to the Board of Fire Commissioners. As we move through this transition, or any others that may present in the future, maintaining our identity and community connection will forever be a priority and will always be balanced against any potential gains the District may achieve.

Are we merging, annexing, or consolidating with another fire agency?

No. We are purposefully exploring how we might be better together than apart through cooperative working relationships, partnerships, or efforts that could allow for more efficient emergency operations, a reduction of duplication, and an ability to maintain cost control. These explorations have always been a consideration but with the likely departure of our full-time Fire Chief the timing of certain aspects has necessarily been pushed up given the need to ensure that our District maintains administrative oversight during the transition period.

Why are we not looking at signing an ILA with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One instead of Central Pierce Fire & Rescue?

As Chief Morrow has shared from his previous experiences, these opportunities present in unexpected ways, and their timing is never just right.

The ILA concept with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue is just one option that may allow the Board the ability to maintain continuity of operations immediately after the departure of Chief Morrow and during a temporary transition period. At the same time, it allows adequate time for the Fire Commissioners to understand and explore all options that may be available.

Chief Morrow has been in contact with Chief Doan at Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, and a meeting is scheduled for the two Board Chairs to discuss potential options available between the two Districts.

Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One is already a trusted partner of the District now, and it is likely that during this transition period, a wide range of additional conversations will take place about the long-term future of both Districts.

Does this mean that our District will not have our own Fire Chief?

Outside of appointing Chief Wolverton as our Interim Fire Chief during the transition period, that is correct. Initially, our Fire Chief services may continue to be provided by Chief Morrow through a possible ILA with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, or they could be provided by another arrangement established by the Board.

One option the Board certainly continues to have is to replace Chief Morrow with a new Fire Chief. However, before the Board decides to hire a replacement Fire Chief, it intends to exhaust exploration into all possible additional partnership options that may allow our District to enhance emergency services while managing current and long-term expenses.

If the District can get by with a part-time contracted Fire Chief, and it saves us money, why have we not done that before?

The only reason the Board may consider this type of short-term arrangement for Fire Chief services through an ILA is to make sure that your Board has the time needed to explore and evaluate all possible options to bolster emergency services and/or reduce costs to our citizens.

Prior to just replacing Chief Morrow with a new Fire Chief, the Board wants to fully understand and analyze any efficiencies and cost reductions that can be gained by working closely with other organizations. This includes working closer with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One in some cases, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue in others, and potentially even with South Kitsap Fire & Rescue or other neighboring agencies in other circumstances.

District employees and volunteers are nervous about their jobs or positions. Will everyone keep their job or position? Are positions going to get consolidated to reduce Staff?

The absolute answer to the first question is yes. Everyone will keep their job or position. There are no discussions occurring that contemplate a reduction of jobs or positions.

Depending upon what partnerships present, there could be a sharing of resources, including human resources. Please understand, this is a sharing of resources, not a consolidation of resources. However, we are so far from these types of decisions that everyone, whether career, volunteer, or other staff, need to know that there is no risk of not having a job or position with the District.

Why is the District purchasing property if we are uncertain about our future organizational structure?

The potential property purchases have been underway for years. The Board's vision was to seek and secure adequate land within Key Center even before Chief Morrow arrived at the District. Chief Morrow has simply executed the wishes of the Board based upon several parameters.

Regardless of our future structure, the District requires parcels within Key Center for continued deployment. The parcels being considered are ideally located for our overall emergency response patterns in all directions.

These parcels will be used for the future development of a new Station 46 in Key Center, adequate training infrastructure, administrative space, and a host of other ideas focused on community services or community spaces.

The Board believes it has a solid vision for these parcels. A concept that provides for what is needed by the District, enhances community connectivity, supports local business, and is very consistent with the long-term planning that is expected of us and is currently being developed as part of our Capital Facilities Plan.

The Board also believes that once it is in a position to surplus the existing Station 46, it could provide for a return of revenue to the District and free up additional commercial development space within Key Center to other interested individuals or businesses.

There are rumors that the District will lease out the old restaurant and the house if we buy those parcels. Is this true?

True. The Board is looking into the legal feasibility of leasing out the restaurant building. Since the District will not be doing anything with the property for at least two to three years, leasing the property will cover the debt service (loan payment) on the non-voted general obligation bond that the District secured earlier in the year to enable the purchase of the parcels.

The District must honor the current lease arrangements on the house. This lease continuation is part of the Purchase and Sales Agreement that is currently underway. Again, the District is not planning to do anything immediately with the house, so that lease revenue will also be used towards the debt service.

How are we paying for everything?

As you may know, the District has four primary funding streams. These include the Regular Fire Levy, the Maintenance & Operations Levy, the EMS Levy, and ambulance transport revenue.

You may also be also aware that the community has been more than supportive in the last 28 months, renewing all three of our recent Levy's. We believe that you have supported these funding requests because of the excellent work that our Firefighters, Volunteers, and Staff do every day, the solid leadership provided by the Board of Fire Commissioners, transparency with our administrative functions, and your clear understanding that we are a scarce resource organization.

You may have heard that the Board instructed Chief Morrow to pay as we go in all areas that we can, outside of major capital purchases. This strategy means that the Chief needs to work within the funds generated from the four revenue streams listed above and take advantage of low-interest debt authorized by the Board where needed.

The most recent acquisition of a non-voted general obligation bond is a prime example of working within the strategy of pay as we go. So is the use of the Local Loan to fund our three new Medic Units currently in production. The debt service (loan payments) all comes from within the existing cash flow of our four primary funding streams, thereby creating no risk to our partners at the schools, parks, etc., by hitting the combined limiting tax rate that covers all public entities.

The District continues to be in a healthy financial state moving forward, and while we will never be sitting on a huge cash surplus, we are currently in a solid financial position.

When will we know more?

It is expected that additional information about these initiatives will become available after we move through our next two to three Regular Board Meetings.

Again, wee are encouraging you to attend the next several Regular Board Meetings so that your input can be heard and acted upon. Our next Regular Board Meeting is Tuesday, November 9th at 5:00pm.

Commissioner Moffett

Board Chair

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