East County Fire and Rescue leaders are continuing their efforts to find a new chief, but other options are also being considered.
According to Interim Chief Al Gillespie, the commission has narrowed to two the number of candidates being considered to fill the position.
Emergency Services Consulting International submitted the names and resumes of six potential candidates to the commission following the closure of the application period of the nationwide search on Jan. 15.
“During executive (non-public) session the commission looked at the qualifications of those six,” Gillespie said. “Two were chosen to keep in the process.”
Gillespie said their names would not be released until ESCI lays out the next steps for the interview process, which is expected to happen during the next couple of weeks.
Recent developments, however, could have an impact on the district’s path forward. Commissioner Mike Berg indicated on Monday that talks about expanding the district’s relationship with the Camas-Washougal Fire Department have recently gained renewed momentum.
Meetings between Camas and ECFR elected officials have been occurring on a monthly basis for some time, as a way to keep the channels of communication open. According to Berg, the most recent held Feb. 18 was attended by ECFR commissioners Martha Martin and Thomas Gianatasio, Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, and Camas Councilman Greg Anderson, as well as Gillespie, CWFD Chief Nick Swinhart and Camas City Administrator Pete Capell.
“We have renewed interest between the two parties,” Berg said. “We are looking at joint management. That is an option, but it’s not the only option. We have ruled out nobody. We still have two very viable [chief] candidates.”
Higgins said Monday the topic of joint management has been discussed by Camas city officials internally. While there are a few concerns, the proposal has potential. The next steps will involve vetting the idea among the members of the city’s Fire-Joint Policy Advisory Committee, which includes three city council members, then making a decision about whether to pursue it further.
“It is very early in the conversation and I don’t know what way it will go, but this is different than any kind of consolidation,” Higgins said of the ECFR proposal. “It is just an idea they brought to us and we are looking at the pros and cons from the city perspective.”
The Camas and Washougal fire departments, once separate entities, officially consolidated in December 2013 following a trial period that lasted more than two years.
Berg, elected to the commission in 2009, supports the idea of working with the nearby fire department to find efficiencies, specifically when it comes to management.
“I kind of hope we can work something out, so we can put some money somewhere else instead of having dual management. It’s a better possibility now than I have ever seen before. We have a really good chance of working this out. If we do, we could save our taxpayers a lot of money.”
In the summer of 2015, financial consultant Paul Lewis was hired by ECFR through a $5,700 contract that focused on determining the feasibility of CWFD providing fire department services to ECFR, assessing service delivery and cost alternatives, estimating the costs to ECFR of contracting with CWFD for fire chief services, and summarizing the results of the analysis.
A guest column written by Commission President Martin, published in the Nov. 17, 2015, edition of the Post-Record, appeared to rule out the immediate possibility any kind of joint management agreement.
“From our discussions with Camas, we discovered that having one fire chief for both districts does not look viable at this time,” she wrote.
Now, that appears to have changed.
Giving the commission more time to work through some of the details is the recent extension of Gillespie’s contract. Previously set to come to a close Feb. 29, Gillespie said it has been extended to last as long as through the end of April.
The interim chief consulting fee is $11,500 per month. The contract can be terminated with seven days written notice.
Gillespie has been at the helm since November 2015, following the retirement of ECFR Interim Chief Dean Thornberry who was appointed Jan. 8, after the commissioners voted to fire then Chief Scott Koehler without cause.
ECFR, with nine full-time and five part-time paid firefighters, in addition to 28 volunteers, responds to approximately 950 calls per year in the unincorporated areas north and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal.
The area’s residents also receive advanced life support paramedic response from the Camas-Washougal Fire Department through a mutual-aid agreement that is funded by an emergency medical services levy approved by voters every six years for more than nearly 40 years.