Whenever I write these columns, I review the year, check our minutes, talk with staff, ponder a lot and then start to describe what has happened at our fire district of 60 square miles that sits north of the cities of Camas and Washougal.
I also realize how important it is for you all to know what we do; and it is a lot. As people go about their daily lives, having quality emergency services is probably not the first thing you think of each day … until you need it.
So, let’s get down to it.
2019 was busy and challenging. Our priority was to pass a levy lid lift. With valuable feedback from citizens after our first attempt in 2018, it was placed once again on the ballot with important changes. We also engaged our citizens with our Facebook page, something that we had not been able to do with the previous attempt. The result? Our levy passed, and we are grateful to our citizens. As of the beginning of 2020, we will now be in a much better position to meet our costs, make many upgrades and improvements and continue forward with the kind of service you all deserve.
During 2019, the ECFR Board of Commissioners and staff continued to meet monthly for strategic planning workshops. We discussed ways to minimize cost; most of this before knowing whether the levy would pass and knowing that any levy dollars would not be available until 2020.
Our Board decided to discontinue contracting with the fire chief from the city of Camas. We moved forward by offering the fire chief position to our then- Deputy Chief Michael Carnes. Chief Carnes graciously accepted the full-time position, after performing much of the duties in his previous position as deputy chief.
Our discussions included the surplusing of vehicles that had become too expensive to maintain and had reached the end of their useful lifespan. We surplused an old fire engine, air truck and a rescue squad. At this time, the engine has sold, with the other apparatuses eventually going to auction.
The Board and staff discussed replacing the chassis on two of our first-out rescue squads that have become a maintenance liability. The goal is to have two four-person rescue squads that can run medical calls, lowering the cost and wear and tear on the new fire engine.
We also began a discussion with the city of Washougal regarding its interest in purchasing Station 95, located on 39th Street in Washougal. After much amicable negotiation, the City has agreed to purchase the building; and, at this time, that transaction is nearing completion.
Our Board and staff discussed call-response data and “heat maps” that indicate that the number of calls ECFR runs into Camas and Washougal versus the number that the Camas-Washougal Fire Department runs into our district is two to one: two calls we are running into Camas and Washougal for every call they run into ours. This information was passed on to those cities and will continue to be a topic of discussion as we move into 2020.
The Board and staff completed the review of all policies and procedures, updating existing policies and adding new ones based on current laws. This was a long process but allowed the Board and staff to be much better informed about all our policies; determine the necessity of regular review; and ensure that district policies meet current laws and properly serve the residents of the district.
The Board continues their participation on several important district committees. These committees include monthly communication with local elected officials, the risk management committee, safety committee representative, the revenue exploratory committee as well as the East County Ambulance Advisory Board (ECAAB), the combined ambulance service board that includes the cities of Camas and Washougal.
The Board and staff met with Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) to provide information regarding a fire master plan for the city of Camas. The cities of Camas and Washougal received the plan results in late 2019. The information provided ECFR with ideas for improvement as well as reinforcement for the current positive management of the district.
A notable event that provided outreach to our citizens was ECFR’s open house in the summer of 2019, which was well attended by more than 200 people. ECFR staff organized the event, at which several other organizations — such as Clark Regional Emergency Response Agency (CRESA), Life Flight and Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) — also provided education and information.
Some of you may recall that our firefighters assisted in a dramatic water rescue on the Washougal River in the summer of 2019. And, during a fire incident in Washougal in 2019, it made the news when two of our career firefighters were able to respectfully save an American flag near a burning building. We are very proud of these two and all our ECFR firefighters who take risks every day to keep the public safe.
The district held a “fire sale” to offer surplus items to the public. These are things that are no longer viable for safety reasons or are not useful and are taking up storage space. The sale was well attended, with most items going out the door. Some additional items that were left have been, or will be, donated.
We are looking ahead to 2020 and into the future. Currently on our plate is the decision regarding the potential renewal of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) levy, which expires at the end of this year.
We will also be looking at what our future revenue and expenditures will look like in five, 10 and even 15 years, to ensure that we keep the District on a firm financial footing.
We welcome your questions about your East County Fire & Rescue fire district. To learn more, visit our website at ecfr.us, view our Facebook page or attend our meetings. The Board meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month, typically at Station 91, 600 N.E. 267th Ave., Camas. We look forward to seeing you there.
Martha Martin is a fire commissioner and board chair for East County Fire and Rescue. She has served on the Board since 2012.