Another major step in the trial merger effort between the Camas and Washougal fire departments was put into place last week.
On Dec. 6, two captains “swapped” departments. WFD Capt. Larry Saari is now working out of the downtown Camas fire station as the training officer, while CFD Capt. Greg Payne is now based from WFD Station 171.
“This is a significant event in the history of the Camas and Washougal fire departments, and likewise a major event in the trial merger between the two departments,” CFD Chief Nick Swinhart said in a written statement.
According to Swinhart, the new training officer position was created to improve the training processes between Camas, Washougal and East County Fire and Rescue.
“We think that is going to help maintain consistency in each shift when it comes to training,” he said during a recent phone interview. Previously, he said, these duties were handled individually by each shift, with a battalion chief in charge.
Both men are longtime members of their respective departments. Saari joined the WFD as a volunteer firefighter in September 1981, and was hired in April 1986. Payne has been with the CFD since August 1989.
Swinhart said the change will help build relationships between Camas and Washougal firefighters and paramedics, which have continued to become more established since the two unions consolidated into one organization in 2009.
“There is going to be more interaction between the members of the two departments,” he said.
The command staff restructuring also included the creation of a second-in-command “division chief of EMS” job.
Following an interview process conducted by an outside panel, Cliff Free was named to that position in October.
Free, the former longtime interim EMS captain for Camas, has worked for the CFD since 2005, and spent three years working as a paramedic for American Medical Response.
In his new position Free supervises EMS training for the Camas, Washougal and ECFR departments, and will fill in for Swinhart when necessary.
These changes are all part of a functional consolidation process between the Camas and Washougal fire departments that began in July.
Fire department officials have previously reported that the efforts are already helping to reduce overtime by giving the Camas and Washougal fire departments flexibility to move staff from station to station to fill gaps and maintain minimum staffing.
Swinhart said thanks to these and other efforts, including internal changes within the CFD, a 2011 EMS fund deficit should be reduced to about $150,000 to $160,000 by the end of the year.
Officials are currently working to develop a long-term plan with the goal of building more financial stability and continuing to provide quality emergency medical services in the two communities.