EMS services in east county should change

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The Camas and Washougal city councils are going to have some tough decisions ahead, when it comes to the method of providing emergency medical services in east Clark County.

For more than 30 years, EMS services in Camas, Washougal and the East County Fire and Rescue district have been supported through a voter-approved levy. Up until recently, monies from this source were reliable and relatively stable. This year, however, the fund is facing a $310,000 deficit, with the primary culprit being a reduction in assessed property values.

At the moment, officials are struggling through the process of deciding how to financially make it through 2011. But bigger problems are knocking at the door. Given the current economy that is only very slowly improving, how does this critical service as it is currently structured remain sustainable?

There are no simple, easy answers to this question. The only given is that its structure must change. It is going to take thoughtful discussion, teamwork and compromise on the part of all of the players involved — leadership from the cities of Camas and Washougal and East County Fire and Rescue, union representatives and rank-and-file staff. And, as history tells us, there will be inherent challenges as some of these groups have not had the most productive of working relationships in the past.

Some positive steps are already being taken. Camas and Washougal have begun collaborative discussions that take into consideration the long-term, including talks of consolidating and streamlining services, merging and expanding the role of the volunteer firefighter force.

But clearly additional compromise, restructuring and a new approach to providing this service will be needed. And, in the end, it will be important to keep in mind that the basis for decisions must be what is in the best interest of the most important player in all of this — the citizens who count on this often life-saving service. These are the people who call 911 because they simply need help, and aren’t concerned about the name on the uniform.