CFD chief could be appointed interim leader of consolidated departments

Councils' decisions are expected April 2

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The Washougal and Camas city councils could decide in a few weeks to appoint Camas Fire Chief Nick Swinhart as interim chief of the consolidated departments.

The decisions, expected April 2, would change Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher’s title to deputy chief of fire prevention and fire marshal for the departments.

A trial consolidation is in effect through Dec. 31, 2013.

“We’ve been ‘holding hands,’” Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said regarding the trial consolidation during the council workshop last night. “We’ve gone out on a few dates. We are talking about potentially getting engaged.”

Washougal City Administrator David Scott described the trial consolidation as a “highly cooperative arrangement.”

He said there would be no change in the employment status for either Swinhart or Schumacher, as each chief would continue to be employees of their respective cities.

Swinhart said the proposed administrative move has nothing to do with finances.

“Having been involved in merger attempts and discussions in other departments, I can tell you that having more than one person in charge of the effort is one of the quickest ways to derail the process,” he said Monday. “Even when the two chiefs have an excellent working relationship — like Chief Schumacher and I do — the process becomes incredibly bogged down when all questions, decisions and coordination have to go through two people.

“Not only can it completely stall progress, but neither department has any idea if the merger can ultimately work or not if you’re still operating with two separate command structures,” Swinhart added. “That’s why I appreciate that it was Chief Schumacher and the leadership at Washougal who came up with the idea to make this change now.”

Swinhart mentioned Schumacher’s extensive fire marshal background will be invaluable to the citizens of both cities and the combined departments.

“My education is in administration, and I hope to use this background to guide both departments to a conclusion that ultimately benefits our citizens as well as our organizations,” Swinhart said. “Chief Schumacher will not be stepping into the shadows by any means. He’ll become my right hand man in the continuation of this effort and will still be deeply involved in the operations and deployment of the Washougal staff. His continued guidance will be crucial for our efforts to be successful.”

In October 2011, Cliff Free, a former interim EMS captain for Camas, was named to a new position — division chief of EMS.

Swinhart said Schumacher and Free will coexist at the “number 2” position.

“But given Chief Schumacher’s experience, he’ll typically be the first person I’ll go to when I’m away and I need to leave somebody in charge of the department,” Swinhart said.

Swinhart, 41, has a monthly salary of $9,143, while Schumacher, 56, receives $8,106 a month.

Schumacher said there would be several benefits to having one interim chief during the trial consolidation process.

“Having one chief will streamline operations, have a consistent message, will align both departments to operate as one as we go through this trial consolidation period, and more of my time can be dedicated to the fire marshal aspect of my job,” he said.

Schumacher’s appointment as the WFD chief could be renewed effective Jan. 1, 2014, or sooner if the trial consolidation is terminated.