EMS issues attract interest at Washougal retreat

Camas and Washougal councils to consider trial consolidation extension

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The Camas and Washougal City councils will soon discuss the possibility of extending the trial merger of the cities’ fire departments for up to two years.

Those discussions are expected to occur in February, according to Washougal Fire Department Chief Ron Schumacher. He and Camas Fire Department Chief Nick Swinhart spoke Saturday during the Washougal City Council’s annual planning session.

Their presentation attracted attention from East County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Koehler and ECFR Commissioners Jack Hoober and Gary Larson, as well as International Association of Firefighters Local 2444 President Kevin Bergstrom, Washougal Volunteer Firefighters Association President Tyler McMahon, Washougal Volunteer Battalion chiefs Charlie Dawson and Rod Morris, and WFD volunteers Jordan Boldt and Larry Wagoner. Dr. Lynn Wittwer, the medical program director for all emergency medical services providers in Clark County, was also in attendance.

Schumacher and Swinhart’s presentation mentioned the Clark County Medical Program Director’s Office is committed to keeping the East County ambulance system in place and would not support AMR or a third party provider “since AMR is currently having difficulty serving District 2.”

Participating jurisdictions in EMS District 2 include Battle Ground, La Center, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Clark County.

“A contract now with AMR would not be prudent,” Schumacher said.

The CFD’s average response time is 5 minutes 30 seconds, which includes urban, suburban and rural areas. AMR’s average response time is 7 minutes 58 seconds, primarily for urban areas.

“In a field where seconds can save lives, this is probably the most significant advantage of the current system,” Swinhart said.

He said another advantage includes having cross-trained personnel to handle fire and medical emergencies.

Future options regarding ambulance service include Washougal petitioning the state to add a new EMS provider to the county, laying off personnel, having Camas withdraw its advance life support crew from Station 171 near downtown Washougal, or continuing with the present consolidation.

Washougal Councilman Jon Russell said he wants to see “hard numbers” in future presentations.

“I need more numbers versus emotional appeal, to see the financial benefits of hiring or firing,” he said.

Washougal City Administrator David Scott said if the inter-local trial merger is renewed, the fire departments will go through seasons and cycles for more definitive results.

Rick Strickler, a retired WFD captain, talked about the trial merger of the Camas and Washougal fire departments.

“I have concern about the attempt to relinquish control to our neighbor,” he said to the Washougal council.

“Exercise caution,” Strickler added. “If the financial facts are vague, allow it to percolate. Don’t be quick in your actions.”

He wondered if anyone has asked the firefighters how they feel.

“The volunteers are feeling uncomfortable,” Strickler said. “I’m afraid we are going to lose volunteers.

“It is priceless to have volunteers and paid staff,” he added.

Dawson also encouraged City Council members to talk to the volunteer firefighters.

“Set up a time to meet with them as a group,” she said. “A lot of young people want it as a career.”

A functional consolidation process between the Camas and Washougal fire departments began in July 2011. The process has reduced overtime costs by giving both departments flexibility to move staff from station to station to fill gaps and maintain minimum staffing.

To help offset a $310,000 shortfall in the Camas EMS budget, the Washougal council approved a $150,000 budget amendment in May. It involved transferring $95,000 to an EMS fund to offset the shortfall and spending $55,000 for a new hire at the WFD.

Other topics of discussion during the Washougal council’s annual planning session included the Open Public Meetings Act, the use of iPads and social media by elected officials and the potential formation of an association to represent Washougal businesses. There was also mention of the future creation of a development/redevelopment advisory committee to spur interest in vacant properties located in areas including downtown and “E” Street.

Additional topics included promoting tourism and historic properties in Washougal.

Councilwoman Connie Jo Freeman, a bus driver for the Camas School District, said she has driven students to Olympia for historical outings.

“Why not take those kids here — for school outings and field trips?” she asked.