Trial merger begins on the right foot

CFD chief also proposes command staff restructure

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The Camas City Council received its first progress report on the trial consolidation effort underway between the Camas and Washougal fire departments, and so far the results are positive.

During last Tuesday’s workshop, Camas Fire Chief Nick Swinhart and Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher said relationships are being built, and some savings are being recorded.

While the inter-local agreement was initiated July 13, the trial consolidation process officially began Aug. 20, which marked the point at which the IV technician hired by the Washougal Fire Department was fully trained.

Schumacher commented that the effort is moving ahead surprisingly well.

“I believe this is going better than I anticipated,” he said. “It is still a work-in-progress, and we are finding operational issues along the way, and we are saving both departments some money along the way, too.”

Some overtime savings have been realized, Swinhart said.

Battalion chiefs have been keeping track of instances when overtime previously would have been used to maintain staffing levels, but was not needed due to the partnership arrangements and the hiring of the WFD IV technician. The result was 288 hours of overtime savings so far.

“That was 288 hours where, according to our battalion chiefs’ estimation, we did not have to hire for overtime because the Washougal Fire Department employee was part of the equation,” Swinhart said.

The dollar amount attributed that figure ranges from approximately $11,800 to $16,800.

“These are all estimates at this time,” the chief qualified. “It’s not hard and fast numbers. We continue to log hours and make changes as the months move on.”

Both chiefs also commented that, perhaps surprisingly, as Washougal Fire Department paid and volunteer staff have begun working more closely with CFD paid staff, there have been few personnel problems.

“Up to this point, we have had no issues,” Schumacher said.

Looking to the future, Swinhart said the biggest challenge that he and Schumacher will face at the end of the six month trial period will be demonstrating potential savings.

“That’s the biggest issue;” Swinhart said “to make sure the numbers line up.”

One action that could contribute to reducing expenses is a CFD department command staff re-organization being proposed by Swinhart.

The proposal eliminates an emergency medical services captain position, and creates a second-in-command “division chief of EMS” job, as well as a new training captain position.

Swinhart said a division chief is necessary because under the organization’s current structure, the battalion chiefs lead the day-to-day activities of shift operations but do not offer administrative support.

“What I am lacking is an administrative support person who is out of the union, who can truly be an assistant to me,” he said.

According to the proposal, the division chief of EMS would “act in the chief’s absence” and “serve as an administrative confidant on personnel and labor issues, which the department currently does not have.”

“To me, this would be one of the most important positions in the department,” Swinhart said.

The new position would cost $5,000 more annually than the EMS captain position. However, Swinhart is proposing demoting two current captain positions to paramedics, which he says are no longer justifiable since the dissolution of the partnership between CFD and East County Fire and Rescue. The demotions would save $28,488 in salaries and benefits.

“The demotions were about to take place, regardless of the creation of the new positions,” Swinhart said.

Swinhart said no additional pay is necessary to create the training captain position because it would be filled with existing personnel on the same pay scale.

The re-organization proposal is expected to come in front of council for approval during the Monday, Sept. 19 regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.