Washougal Council delays EMS decision

Additional discussions are expected Monday during workshop

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An anticipated EMS vote that could have the Washougal Fire Department operating under a “functional operational consolidation” with Camas on a trial basis has been postponed to allow additional time for City Council discussions.

The Washougal City Council voted last night 6 to 1, to table a decision that could involve transferring $95,000 to an EMS fund to offset a shortfall and spending $55,000 for a new hire at the WFD. Michael Delavar voted against tabling a decision.

In conjunction with Washougal providing a firefighter/IV tech on one shift, the functional consolidation would 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.

“Option 4” is expected to reduce the $310,000 shortfall by $115,808. That would leave $194,192 for Camas to pay, using reserves.

Councilman Paul Greenlee said the option is not sustainable if there are no “significant savings.”

He mentioned current ambulance personnel provide “top drawer service, but we should start thinking about alternate suppliers.”

Councilman Rod Morris distributed copies of information about “Option 1,” which would put the ambulance at Station 172 on a 12-hour-per-day schedule instead of 24 hours. It would eliminate two firefighter/paramedic positions, resulting in $183,082 in annual savings.

If current staffing levels are maintained to reduce overtime, the annual savings would be expected to amount to $58,000.

“I’m just trying to put all the options on the table before we vote,” Morris said after the meeting.

In an email sent Wednesday to Mayor Sean Guard and Washougal council members, East County Fire and Rescue Commission Chairman Gary Larson said ECFR is pleased to have the Washougal-based ambulance providing faster responses to medical calls east of the Washougal River.

Larson said all governments have had to scale-back their expenses, in response to the downturn in the economy.

“We, in good conscious, cannot send additional funds to the ambulance to keep them at 100 percent when we refused to spend reserve funds on our personnel for fiscal year 2011 pay raises or to maintain last year’s level of medical coverage,” Larson said. “Taking money from our regular operating budget will result in layoffs of ECFR firefighters needed to fulfill the fire district’s primary mission.

“There are several ways that operational costs could be reduced,” he added. “Only some have been considered publicly. The ambulance could also reduce staffing during non-peak periods or when short-staffed (i.e. personnel call in sick). If staffing is reduced, we think that any reductions in service should be based upon customer usage patterns.”

Larson and ECFR Chief Scott Koehler were among those in attendance at the meeting last night.

The Washougal council is expected to have additional discussions regarding the EMS issues during a workshop Monday, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.