By Nick Swinhart, Guest Columnist
In 1979, four visionary fire chiefs came together to ensure the public safety needs for our community for generations to come. Deloy Little of Camas, Darrell Alder of Washougal, Bob Holland of Clark County Fire District 1 and Clyde Webberley of Clark County Fire District 9, signed a document that established what became known as the “Three Parties Agreement.” This agreement provided for the funding of a paramedic transport service in the East Clark County area. The money was to be used for hiring personnel, buying equipment and the ongoing emergency medical training needs of the involved departments.
The state of Washington provides cities the ability to use an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy of up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to provide a stable, dedicated funding source for this service. Since the initial establishment of the EMS program in 1979, Washougal voters have approved the EMS levies. The most recent levy started in 2011 at 50 cents of $1,000 of assessed value, and expired after 2016. On Nov. 7, 2017, Washougal voters will be asked to re-authorize a new EMS levy at that same rate of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
A lot has changed since 1979. In 1979, an ambulance cost around $30,000. Today they cost closer to $200,000. At the same time, emergency call volume has increased more than 300 percent during that 38-year timespan, and 34 percent in just the past six years. The 2011 merger between the Camas and Washougal fire departments brought an increased level of service and staffing for both communities. Previously, a paramedic unit was located only in Grass Valley or downtown Camas. The 2011 merger placed a permanent paramedic unit at the Washougal station and doubled daily staffing there. This was a particularly prescient move as the Washougal station over recent years has become our busiest station. Without this paramedic unit, a patient suffering a heart attack in downtown Washougal may have to wait for the next nearest ambulance responding from Camas or even Grass Valley. This would be a significant increase in response time that will inevitably lead to poor patient outcomes.
The EMS levy is a dedicated source of funding to support the provision of EMS and ambulance transport in Washougal. Re-authorizing this levy will maintain Washougal’s current level of emergency medical services. Washougal Proposition 7 will reinstate a stable funding source for essential services for the years 2018-2023. At 50 cents per $1,000 valuation, the EMS levy will help ensure the financial viability of our system for years to come. Without the replacement of the EMS levy, your Camas-Washougal Fire Department will unlikely be able to maintain the same level of service to Washougal citizens.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please remember to vote on Nov. 7!
Nick Swinhart is the fire chief of the Camas-Washougal Fire Department and East County Fire & Rescue.