Courting fire departments pick a name


The Mirror

A special joint fire commissioners meeting was held Wednesday in Des Moines. The topic of the evening centered on the anticipated merging of the Federal Way Fire Department and Des Moines Fire District 26.

“We are really close to working out this plan,” said Des Moines fire chief Jim Polhamus.

The plan is so close that the Federal Way and Des Moines commissioners argued several options for a new name and settled on South King County Fire and Rescue District. 

Most officials felt the new name best represented the entire area and left room for other cities to join the venture later.

Federal Way Fire Commissioner William Gates said he would have preferred that the departments kept their separate names to avoid mistaken identities.

“If we name ourselves King County-anything, we will undoubtedly be confused with King County government,” said Gates.

Des Moines Fire Commissioner Gary Bollinger saw it differently.

“I’m thinking of the future, and south King County would cover many areas. It would be a waste of money to limit us to individual city names,” said Bollinger.

Some levity was added into the meeting regarding the opposing name choices.

“We could call ourselves, ‘Fire District: We need your money,’” commented Federal Way Commissioner Mark Thompson.

Des Moines voters will have the final say as to whether the departments will indeed merge if the issue makes it to the Sept. 20 ballot.

The plan is expected by officials to pass, since the main change would be administrative and also save money. Officials say the savings will enable the departments to hire more firefighters, which would benefit both areas.

At least two public meetings are being planned to help keep both Federal Way and Des Moines residents informed. Citizens are urged by officials to bring any concerns to these meetings. 

“We’d rather deal with situations early instead of having a problem later,” said Bollinger.

Des Moines building official Larry Pickard did have some concerns regarding the ways that the merger might impact Des Moines.

“I just want to make sure we will be represented and that we won’t be overwhelmed by a city of 130,000. I would like assurance that we will have water when it’s needed,” said Pickard.

Several officials, including Federal Way fire chief Al Church, assured Pickard that all aspects of the merger were being considered. 

“We have a merger team in place that will help with these transition issues,” said Church. “We’re all working toward this merger and doing everything we can for a smooth transition.”

“This is a merger, not a take over,” added Federal Way Commissioner John Rickert.

Though some details, such as the budget, remain to be worked out, the uniting of the departments appears to be less than six months away. It’s expected that Polhamus would retire after a merger, which would leave Church as the chief of the combined districts.

“I once heard a fire chief say, ‘A merger will either kill you, make you crazy or make you stronger.’ I sincerely hope it’s the latter,” said Church.

News intern Jeanne Dinehart: 925-5565,

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