Camas 9/11 remembrance canceled, but not due to ‘staff shortage’

Reporting error leads to confusion, ‘significant headaches’ for fire officials on Sept. 11 anniversary

An informal 9/11 remembrance event originally scheduled to take place outside the Camas Public Library at 6:45 a.m. today fell apart at the last minute, but the event’s cancellation had nothing to do with a “staff shortage” at the Camas-Washougal Fire Department as other news outlets reported or with a “lack of staff” as a Post-Record reporter noted on social media posts.

Rather, according to Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart, the event’s cancellation was due to the fact that the local firefighters union, which organizes the annual remembrance, could not find enough volunteers to staff this year’s informal event.

The Sept. 11, 2001 remembrance has always been organized by the firefighters union, Swinhart said.

“It’s always been something the labor group has conducted on their own,” Swinhart said today, after fielding dozens of calls from irate community members, upset over what they assumed was the city cancelling a Sept. 11 remembrance event. “The city and (fire) department never had anything to do with organizing or hosting this event. Often the labor leadership asks the fire chief or mayor to say a few words … (but) staff always do it on their off time, never on duty.”

Swinhart said he spoke to firefighter union president Adam Brice today about the remembrance’s cancellation.

“The reason it fell apart this year, according to (Brice), is that they couldn’t find enough volunteers to take it on,” Swinhart said. “Shift or department staffing levels had nothing to do with why it was canceled.”

In past years, the event has often included prepared speeches and a breakfast, but organizers had come up with a pared-down, more informal event this year, which would have included a flag-raising, ringing of the bell and coffee served afterward.

On Monday evening, less than 24 hours before the event was to take place, Swinhart sent a message to city leaders and media that labor leaders were cancelling the event.

“They simply couldn’t find the staff to pull it together this year,” Swinhart stated in his message. “Sorry for the late notice.”

In an email to Post-Record reporter Dawn Feldhaus sent two hours after the fire chief’s message, Brice said the fire department would not accommodate a shift change “to make our event possible.”

Based on Brice’s comment, Feldhaus put an alert out on social media stating the event had been cancelled due to “lack of Camas-Washougal Fire Department staff availability.”

That statement led to quite a few angry community members, who called fire officials throughout the day today — on the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed 412 emergency workers, including 343 firefighters in New York City — to voice their displeasure.

“It’s been causing us significant headaches all day,” Swinhart said. “I think the critical error and confusion here is that (Feldhaus) apparently referred to the cause as a ‘lack of staff.’ That wasn’t the problem. The labor group just couldn’t get enough of their people to volunteer to help out. Since the city and department have nothing to do with organizing this, if (the labor union) can’t find the people to volunteer to help out, the event falls apart. That’s pretty much what happened today.”

The Post-Record apologizes for any confusion caused by its initial reporting on the event’s cancellation.