Grant allows ECFR to hire five firefighters

Additional funds will help expand volunteer force

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Thanks to two federal staffing grants, East County Fire & Rescue will expand its volunteer and full-time paid fire fighting force.

A $799,700 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide the funding to support five fill-time firefighter/emergency medical technicians.

This effectively doubles the current number of full-time line staffing positions. The district, which serves the unincorporated areas of Clark County north and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal, currently has four full-time firefighters and eight part-time firefighters.

According to ECFR Chief Scott Koehler, the grant will pay most of the new hires’ wages and benefits for two years of a three-year employment commitment.

“This grant will allow us to complete our planned hiring — to staff one fire station 24/7/365 on each side of the Washougal River,” he said. [This is made possible] despite the downturn in the economy, and the $500,000 reduction in tax revenue that we have experienced as a result of decreases in assessed property values over the last couple of years.”

The ECFR Fern Prairie station is staffed 24-hours-a-day, while the Mount Norway station will transition to 24-hour coverage beginning July 1.

The second $299,500 FEMA S.A.F.E.R. grant will help ECFR recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service responders.

The grant, which covers four years reimbursing the fire district for actual expenditures, requires no local match.

The funding will help the district perform a variety of tasks including performing a staffing needs assessment; marketing to recruit new volunteers; supporting a cadet program; providing fire protective gear for 20 new volunteers; funding to conduct basic firefighter academies; providing tuition assistance for technical training and college classes related to fire science and emergency medical response; offering insurance and retirement benefits; providing length of service awards; and reimbursing volunteers for time lost from their ‘real’ jobs while attending state required training.

ECFR will be able to increase its volunteer force by at least 20 new members who will help staff the two 24-hour fire stations. It currently has 35 volunteers.

The ECFR district includes 10,271 residents in a 60-square-mile area. Currently, the paid and volunteer personnel respond from six fire stations.

Koehler said a newsletter will be mailed to all district residences at the end of the week detailing the grants and other cost-saving efforts the district has implemented to stretch its budget, including no pay raises in 2011 and a transition to a lower-cost health care plan for employees.

“The purpose of sending this letter is two-fold,” he said. “[To] explain the SAFER grants and to reassure the taxpayers that we are being careful with their money during these tough economic times.”

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