ECFR Commission fires chief

Chairwoman says district needs to go in 'a new direction with new leadership'

Following an executive session tonight that lasted more than two hours, the East County Fire and Rescue Commission voted to terminate the contract of the district’s fire chief.

With a 3-0 vote, during a special meeting on Jan. 8 Commissioners Martha Martin, Mike Berg and Thomas Gianatasio fired Scott Koehler “without cause,” effective immediately.

Assistant Chief Dean Thornberry was appointed acting fire chief.

Chairwoman Martin, a member of the board since May 2012, said the action is justified.

“Based on my experience of working with the chief and recent changes in the board, I do not believe that this board can work effectively with the chief,” she said. “And I believe it is in the best interest of ECFR and its citizens that we go in a new direction with new leadership.”

Added Berg: “I agree with the decision and I think this will be a move in the right direction for East County Fire and Rescue.”

After the meeting, Martin declined to comment further about the reasons behind the firing, citing advice from the district’s attorney, Brian Snure, who was in attendance during the executive and regular sessions.

Koehler, 55, had been the ECFR fire chief since August 2002. He previously worked as a chief in Stanwood, Wash., Camano Island, Wash., and for the Nestucca Rural Fire District in Cloverdale, Ore.

During the past few months, the ECFR organization has undergone several leadership transitions and other changes.

In October, 30-year Commissioner Gary Larson resigned due to what he described as “health reasons,” which was followed by the resignations of two other longtime commissioners, Jack Hoober and Victor Rasmussen.

Gianatasio was appointed to succeed Larson, while applications are currently being accepted to fill Rasmussen’s and Hoober’s seats.

Faced with shrinking property tax revenues, in November the commission approved a 2015 budget that eliminated three firefighter positions.

ECFR’s six full-time and five part-time paid firefighters, along with approximately 50 volunteers, provide fire protection and emergency medical service response to the 10,000 residents who live within the 60 square miles of unincorporated areas that are north of and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal. The district responded to 826 calls in 2013, 917 in 2012 and 888 in 2011.

This story will be updated.