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Wash. officials explore merger of 3 fire districts, eliminating boundaries and improving response times

Officials for Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, Graham Fire & Rescue and Orting Valley Fire and Rescue have taken first steps in putting plan before voters

By Angelica Relente
Puyallup Herald

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Three local fire and rescue groups in Pierce County may merge into one.

Fire commissioners for Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, Graham Fire & Rescue, as well as Orting Valley Fire and Rescue have “formally endorsed” exploring a merger, according to Central Pierce Fire’s website.

That means all three groups have taken legal steps to begin the actions needed to place a merger measure on a ballot, Central Pierce Fire spokesperson Brianna Stenstrom wrote in an email Tuesday.

Some benefits of merging include faster response times, efficient resource management, reduction of overall costs and the ability to adapt to service demands as populations grow, according to the website.

No firefighters at the three fire and rescue agencies would lose their jobs, and no fire stations would be closed.

Asked about how much money a merger is estimated to save residents, Stenstrom said that Central Pierce Fire does not know yet, because the exploration stage is still in progress.

A merger would eliminate boundaries separating the three fire districts, allowing the closest unit available to respond rather than the closest unit available within the respective fire district.

Fire commissioners for all three agencies found that the simplest and most cost-effective decision for Graham Fire and Orting Valley Fire is to ask voters for approval to merge into Central Pierce Fire, according to the website.

Central Pierce Fire is the largest district of the three. It shares a fire chief with Graham Fire, and it provides emergency services to Orting Valley Fire, according to the website. All three groups already work together through shared communications, outreach and education programs, among other things.

All three fire and rescue groups started taking steps to place a merger on a ballot in 2025, according to the website. The steps include issuing a State Environmental Policy Act threshold determination of non-significance and filing a notice of intent with the Pierce County Boundary Review Board.

Stenstrom said that Central Pierce Fire anticipates the merger ballot measure to go in front of voters in early 2025. The Pierce County Boundary Review Board will conduct the boundary review, the state Department of Ecology will approve the environmental review, and the board of fire commissioners will decide if the merger will go to voters.

“The environmental review is underway, and the boundary review process will begin later this month,” Stenstrom wrote in the email.

The merger ballot measure would need a simple majority vote to pass. Only voters in the Graham Fire and Orting Valley Fire districts would vote because Central Pierce Fire would be the host district.

Central Pierce Fire resources would not be reduced if and when Graham Fire and Orting Valley Fire merge into it, according to the website. Central Pierce Fire would undergo a rebranding process if the merger happens.

Central Pierce Fire Chief Dustin Morrow would lead the merger effort, according to the website. He has served as the Graham Fire Chief since March 2024. He has served as the Orting Valley Fire Chief since September 2023.

In March 2024, Graham Fire’s board of fire commissioners adopted an administrative addendum to a master interlocal agreement, making Morrow the fire chief while Central Pierce Fire explores a merger, Stenstrom said.

In September 2023, Central Pierce Fire entered into a contract with Orting Valley Fire. Central Pierce Fire manages day-to-day operations, and all Orting Valley Fire members became Central Pierce Fire’s employees, Stenstrom said.

Morrow’s salary is set at around $296,000 per year. Central Pierce Fire and funds from the Orting Valley Fire contract cover his salary.

Central Pierce Fire has 356 firefighters and paramedics. They serve about 256,000 residents in Puyallup, Spanaway, Parkland, Midland, Elk Plain and Orting.

Graham Fire has 106 firefighters and paramedics. They serve about 70,000 residents in Graham, Kapowsin, Spanaway, Frederickson, and South Hill.

Prior to September 2023, Orting Valley Fire had 30 firefighters. They served about 22,400 residents in the Orting Valley.

If voters support the merger, over 330,000 residents would be supported across 179 square miles, Stenstrom said. About 506 firefighters and 80 administrative staff would work under one organization.

“A merger would remove the political boundaries, reduce redundancy, and combine the governance structure into one Board of Fire Commissioners . Because all three districts are still individual taxing authorities, we must run separate funding measures and maintain separate employment contracts and assets. Under a merger, we would be one legal entity with one budget, one set of policies and procedures, and one unified governance structure,” Stenstrom wrote in an email.

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