Fire commissioner ‘Red’ retires

KINGSTON — It’s been a busy 13 years for North Kitsap Fire & Rescue commissioner L.V. “Red” Denson.

He helped finance, design and construct the new Hansville fire station in 2001 and at the same time, helped the then-Kitsap County Fire District No. 14 (Hansville/Elgon) merge into NKF&R. Denson oversaw the construction of the new South Kingston Road station and headquarters on Miller Bay Road. He was also chairman of board last year when the district considered consolidating certain services with Jefferson County Fire District #1 and Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue.

But that is all behind him now. Denson stepped down from the position Feb. 1, citing personal reasons. NKF&R volunteer coordinator Stephen Neupert was sworn into office Feb. 14.

Denson became involved as a commissioner after Justin Lee stepped down from the board for the Hansville/Eglon fire district in 1991 and “he and Chuck Edwards came over and influenced me,” Denson said.

Previous to the fire board appointment, Denson had been on the Hansville hospital commission and, as a 34-year career Navy man, he had been trained for fighting fires.

“If you were on a sub, which I was, everyone is a firefighter,” he said.

His initial objectives were establishing a full-time staff at the Hansville station and building a new facility.

The first goal took some time. The Hansville/Eglon station was volunteer-run until firefighter Al Voves was hired full time to run the station. Following the merger in 2001, the station was outfitted with a paid staff.

As for the new building, when the merger took place, the district was able to pool its resources and build new stations in Hansville and South Kingston and a new headquarters on Miller Bay Road.

From starting with minimal paid personnel to a full-time staff, Denson said the department has come a long way in growing as a district, especially since call volume has increased in the past decade.

Having three calls come within 10 minutes in the Hansville area when the station was still volunteer was a sign for Denson that something needed to be done about staffing.

“I’m sitting there and listening to things and I don’t hear a volunteer coming up anywhere and I’m getting sick to my stomach,” he said, noting that the calls were coming in when most volunteers were just getting home from work. “I realized then that it would be good to have paid staff there where you could cover these calls.”

Since then, equipment and training has improved, he said.

“We’ve got now, really, in my view, one of the best trained departments there is in the county and possibly of the state,” he said. “I’m really proud of the guys and women that work over there.”

“Espirit de Corps” is how he credits the success of the department — the attitude of working for the organization as a team rather than as individuals, he said.

Denson is pleased with his replacement, Neupert, who has been attending fire commissioner meetings for about seven years.

“I’m delighted to see them pick Steve,” Denson said. “I think he is uniquely qualified to be a commissioner.”

After retiring from the Army, Neupert joined then-Kitsap County Fire District No. 5 (Indianola) in 1980 as a volunteer firefighter and has served as NKF&R’s volunteer coordinator since 2000.

Denson said there is much admiration to be had for someone who will work as a civilian for 25 years and then come in on nights and weekends and special days for training.

“You have to take your hat off to him,” he said.

Neupert said his objectives as commissioner include bringing a unique angle on volunteer firefighting to the board as well as maintaining the departments’ well-known high quality of service.

“I feel maintaining our response times and maintaining responders is our primary goal and making sure our responders have what they need to do their job,” he said.

An open house honoring Denson is planned for 2-5 p.m. April 23 at the Miller Bay Road station.

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