Fire department consolidation begins July 1

Camas and Washougal officials hope move will reduce overtime costs

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With votes of approval by the Camas and Washougal City Councils last night, a functional consolidation effort between the two cities’ fire departments will begin July 1.

Camas unanimously approved the inter-local agreement for the trial effort. Washougal’s council support was 5 to 2, with Michael Delavar and Dave Shoemaker voting against.

“The purpose of the agreement is to allow the City of Camas to continue to furnish emergency medical rescue and licensed advanced life support ambulance transport services to the citizens within the city of Washougal,” the document states. “The two cities acknowledge that the current financial structure of the [emergency medical services] system is unsustainable and that a solution must be determined cooperatively to make the system sustainable in the future.”

In May, the Washougal Council approved a $150,000 budget amendment to help Camas offset a $310,000 shortfall. It involves transferring $95,000 to an EMS fund to offset the shortfall and spending $55,000 for a new hire at the Washougal Fire Department.

Shoemaker emphasized that the money is just a temporary fix to a larger problem that is not going to go away.

“It buys us time to find a solution. It does not buy a solution,” he said.

“The reserves are dwindling,” Shoemaker added. “We’re spending them down very quickly.”

In conjunction with Washougal providing a firefighter/IV tech on one shift, the functional consolidation will involve firefighters, paramedics, captains and battalion chiefs. The ambulance at Station 172 (39th Street) would be relocated to Station 171 (downtown).

Functional consolidation is expected 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. It is expected to reduce the shortfall by $115,808. That would leave $194,192 for Camas to pay, using reserves.

The trial consolidation will end six months after a new Washougal firefighter is “fully functional,” as determined by the chiefs. The employee is expected to start no later than Sept. 1.

A complete merger could be in the future for the two neighboring departments.

“The two cities agree to participate in a trial period of consolidation of the operations of the two fire departments to determine if further consolidation efforts should be undertaken,” the agreement states.

Also included in the document is the stipulation that volunteers with the Washougal Fire Department continue to serve as they have in the past.

“Washougal volunteer firefighters shall continue to be utilized according to past practice,” the agreement states. “Furthermore, the use of the volunteers and opportunities for them to serve may be enhanced as agreed by the Washougal Volunteer Firefighters, IAFF Local, and the two cities.”

Washougal City Administrator David Scott acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead, as the trial consolidation moves forward and long-term solutions are examined.

“It’s no small undertaking,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s exciting.”

Camas Mayor Pro-tem Scott Higgins made note of the efforts of representatives from both cities who worked to put the agreement together.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal that we’ve reached this place of trial consolidation,” Higgins said, adding that such collaborative efforts, particularly in the current economic times, are critical to cities’ financial stability.

Representing Camas in the endeavor has been Interim Fire Chief Monte Brachmann, who will mark his last day in the temporary position on July 8. New fire chief Dominick Swinhart arrives in Camas later this week and assumes his duties on July 5.

Brachmann retired in March 2010 as the Camas public works director after 37 years of service, and was asked by the city to return as the interim fire chief in January after former chief Leo Leon was fired.

City Administrator Lloyd Halverson complimented Branchmann’s work.

“Monte has shown remarkable patience, which is not surprising, persistence, which is not surprising, character, which is not surprising, as well as effectiveness,” Halverson said. “You have done great things for this department.”

Reporter Dawn Feldhaus contributed to this article.

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