Eastern Wake Fire leery of Knightdale merger proposal

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2013 

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, left, answers questions from concerned Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue employees during a joint meeting between Knightdale staff and the fire station's Board of Directors in April.

PAUL A. SPECHT - ASPECHT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM Buy Photo

— The first merger proposal between Knightdale and Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue is unlikely to be the last.

Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue is an independent fire station that serves 17,292 people between Raleigh, Knightdale, Wendell and Garner. The department is funded by Wake County tax dollars. But, because Wake County says its current fire service structure is unsustainable, the county manager’s office has asked Wake towns to consider merging with independent stations nearby.

Knightdale leaders say they’re open to the idea, and in April began a study into the financial benefits of a merger. Based on that study, Knightdale staff recently submitted a merger proposal to Eastern Wake Fire and Wake County officials, who signaled that Knightdale’s proposal includes kinks that they may need to work out over further negotiations.

Knightdale’s proposal reduces Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue personnel from 27 employees to 24 employees, constricts the department’s service area – albeit, minimally – and transforms the Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue station on Hester Street into an all-volunteer station.

“The Steeple Square (Court) and the Hester (Street) stations are so close that when you look at the automatic aid responses that we now have in place the units are within a minute of one another,” Knightdale fire Chief Tim Guffey wrote in the proposal.

Currently, it costs Knightdale and Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue a combined $2.69 million to provide fire service to their respective areas. Under Knightdale’s proposal, the cost of providing service to both areas would decrease to $2.56 million. Guffey says merging with Eastern Wake Fire and Rescue would save Knightdale an estimated $2 million, because it would prevent the town from having to build a fire station on Hodge Road.

Despite the financial benefits of Knightdale’s proposal, Deputy Wake County manager Joe Durham described the proposal as a “preliminary draft document.” Durham, who is coordinating the merger discussions, said the town’s proposal to staff the Hester Street station with only volunteer firefighters would require further consideration.

“My bigger concern is the number they give us to provide services in the unincorporated area,” he said.

Knightdale proposes to pull back service to Battle Bridge Road on the southern border of the district and Seley Farm Road on the eastern border.

Ray Broadwell, chairman of the station’s Board of Directors, thinks reducing the staff and the service area would prompt a lower rating from the state fire commissioner. He also pointed out flaws in Knightdale’s study. For instance, Knightdale proposes using the space behind station one for storage. Broadwell says the location of the septic tank would prevent that.

“I don’t think they put a whole lot of thought into it,” Broadwell said, referring to the study. “I aint’ saying (the proposal) is off the table, but we’ll have to sit down and have some more discussions before moving on with it.”

Durham said the merger parties hoped to schedule a joint meeting within the next two weeks to discuss the proposal.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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