Merger means new District 22 commissioner

By Judy Halone-The Courier Herald

Pierce County residents will elect a new fire commissioner during the Aug. 21 primary election.

The new Fire District 22 Commissioner Position 1 - a six-year term - is a result of a voter-approved 2006 merger after residents of Fire Districts 12, 20 and 22 voted to combine the districts with East Pierce Fire and Rescue.

There are four candidates on the ballot: Raymond R. Bunk III, of Bonney Lake, will run against sitting commissioners Dick Willner, of Buckley, Patrick Claffey of Bonney Lake and Roger Coleman of Lake Tapps.

“Two of those positions go away with the statutes,” Rick Kuss, Chair Fire Commissioner for East Pierce Fire and Rescue said.

“We currently have 11 commissioners; when we started out, we had 13 with the 2006 merger. Next year we'll drop that to eight commissioners,” Kuss said.

In 2010 that number will remain the same, with two new commissioners elected by voters.

But it's the 2012 election that has Kuss concerned, when voters will elect two new positions while the numbers of commissioners drop to five. With the area's unprecedented growth and anticipated need for emergency services, he hopes to see that number increase, with public support and voter approval.

“Looking ahead, we hope to raise the five commissioner positions in 2012 because we're so diversified; the public would be so much better served. East Pierce Fire and Rescue proposed last year to raise that number to seven; it went to the House but it didn't make it through the Senate. We plan on sending that to the Legislature this year, supported by the Pierce County Fire Commissioners Association and the Washington State Fire Commissioners Association,” Kuss said. “We need to get it through the Legislature.”

Should the Senate approve the proposal, the measure would then go before the voters.

According to Kuss, the original work on the merger began in 1996 when departments from Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake and District 24 formed a joint training program with Sumner and South Prairie. It was a process that simplified the districts' services, he said.

“That sort of simplified it for us because we were able to work together,” Kuss said.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue covers 140 square miles and serves 73,300 residents.

“We have five fire stations staffed 24/7, with a minimum of 15 firefighters on duty at all times, unless they're doing a transport. At 8 in the morning there are 15 career firefighters on duty, plus we have other fire fighters for a total of 60 volunteers. That includes contracted services with the city of Sumner and Pierce County Fire District 1, which surrounds Sumner,” Kuss said.

Kuss said the merger has allowed emergency personnel to more efficiently serve the public with quicker response times and a higher level of training.

“With regionalized fire service, we send the closest station. Each one of those people in the station is trained to the same level. We are all about providing customer service. We live by our mission statement.

“This has been the best district I've ever been involved with. Helping it grow is important,” Kuss said.

Judy Halone can be reached at

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