ECFR must continue its search for a chief

Previous finalist accepted a position in Tukwila

It’s back to the drawing board for East County Fire and Rescue officials, who have been searching unsuccessfully for a permanent fire chief since November 2015.

Two weeks ago the district made a conditional offer of employment to Jay Wittwer, who currently serves as a battalion chief for North Las Vegas Fire and Rescue and has worked in fire services for nearly 30 years.

However, the City of Tukwila announced on July 21 that Wittwer would instead become the new chief of its fire department. The Tukwila City Council is expected to confirm his appointment during its meeting on Monday, Aug. 1

“Jay was in line for Tukwila, and he has accepted that position,” said Interim ECFR Chief Al Gillespie. “Now we are thinking and looking at what our options might be.”

Potential paths forward range from promoting an employee from within the department to giving some kind of administrative partnership with the Camas-Washougal Fire Department another shot. Gillespie, who has worked in fire services for nearly four decades, is also tapping into his resources to determine if there might be some new applicants for the position.

“We’re kind of back to square one for a while,” he said.

Gillespie was contracted in November 2015 to temporarily lead ECFR, following the retirement of Interim Chief Dean Thornberry.

The intention was to keep Gillespie on board until a permanent chief could be hired.The search process, guided by a paid consultant, resulted in six candidates. Two, including Wittwer, were chosen as finalists in February.

Soon after, however, the hiring process was put on hold when discussions about shared administrative services began occurring between CWFD and ECFR officials.

That effort hit a road block on June 30, when the East Clark Professional Fire Fighters Local 2444 rejected a memorandum of understanding that outlined monthly salary increases of 2.85 percent for CWFD battalion chiefs — payment for extra work that would have been involved in overseeing ECFR operations.

Gillespie’s contract with ECFR has been extended to continue through Oct. 31, if needed. He is working up to 36 hours a month for a flat fee of $10,000 per month.

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 60 square-miles of unincorporated areas north and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal.

The district’s residents also receive advanced life support paramedic response from the CWFD 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.