Camas OKs creation of capital facilities plan for fire department

Report will follow a 2019 master plan showing area needs two new fire stations

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Emergency vehicles are parked outside the Camas-Washougal Fire Department Fire Station 41 in downtown Camas in May 2020. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Camas City Council members agreed this month to move forward with the creation of a capital facilities plan for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.

The report should help officials in Camas and Washougal understand the best way to allocate fire impact fees from new developments, said CWFD Fire Chief Nick Swinhart.

“We initially talked about updating our fire impact fees, but quickly found out we needed to build a new capital facilities plan,” Swinhart told Camas councilors at the city council’s Feb. 16 workshop. “This hasn’t been done in over a decade … and is something we’re going to need outside help to pull together.”

The capital facilities report would build on the 181-page fire department master plan completed by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) in December 2019.

“To an extent, this is a refresher of the project you had a couple years ago,” John Humphreys, director of architecture for the Portland-based architecture, engineering, design and planning firm being considered as the consultant for the CWFD capital facilities plan, told Camas councilmembers on Feb. 16, referring to the ESCI.

If city councilors approve a contract with MacKenzie for the CWFD capital facilities plan, Humphries said his firm would break the project into five “tasks,” including a reevaluation of the ESCI study that takes into account new response times, changing demographics and possibly even the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fire department; the possible development of two new fire stations; a “high-level projection” of costs; sources for funding new fire facilities in Camas and Washougal; and a report that would come before both the Camas and Washougal city councils as well as the CWFD Joint Policy Advisory Committee (JPAC).

MacKenzie has assisted other fire departments in Washington and Oregon with similar reports, including the Vancouver Fire Department’s recent facilities master plan, which evaluated all 10 of that department’s fire stations and helped find the best spots to build two new stations to have faster response times across the district.

Humphreys estimated it would take two to three months to complete the facilities report, and said his firm would engage the Camas-Washougal Fire Department “every step of the way.”

“We would be looking at response times, where stations might be located (and) cost models,” Humphreys said.

The consultants also would take into account the fact that the future of the joint fire department is in flux, and could revert back to separate Camas and Washougal fire departments, remain “as is” as the CWFD or even incorporate the East County Fire & Rescue fire district to expand its reach into more rural areas outside Camas-Washougal.

“I believe that it’s in MacKenzie’s proposed scope to look at all three possibilities,” Swinhart said. “They should cover all possible eventualities.”

ESCI report highlighted response times, need for new facilities

The 2019 master fire plan was meant to show city leaders in Camas as well as Washougal what CWFD needs in terms of infrastructure and staff considering the community’s project growth and increased volume of fire and emergency medical calls.

According to Don Bivins, a senior associate ESCI who presented the report to the Camas councilors and Mayor Barry McDonnell on Dec. 2, 2019, the report “assessed current conditions, current structure and how population growth will impact risks to your community … (and) identified gaps and made recommendations to fill those gaps.”

The plan highlights several critical issues — including an average response time that is more than double the industry standard and the inability to respond to a two-story, single-family structure fire, even with mutual aid from other fire departments, within the industry standard of 15 personnel on the scene within 8 minutes — and offered several short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions.

The report called staffing levels at CWFD “excessively lean” and said the department has “facilities that are in need of upgrade or replacement.”

“Given the projected growth in population and call volume, CWFD will have structural gaps in place in the response system,” the report stated. “One such gap that exists today is response travel times to the (North Shore)/Green Mountain area, Prune Hill (and) the southeast side of Lacamas Lake (in Camas) and the east side of Washougal.”

The report’s authors recommended Camas city leaders purchase property sooner rather than later within one-quarter mile of the Ingle Road-Goodwin Road intersection in order to someday build a fire station that will serve the city’s North Shore/Green Mountain area.

“It would be proactive to secure land in advance of growing demand and avoid having to consider exercising eminent domain,” the report stated. “The property should be large enough (about 1.5 acres) to provide for a station with at least two apparatus bays and crew quarters to house two units, with expansion potential for a third in the distant future.”

The 2019 ESCI report also recommended relocating Station 41 from downtown Camas to a location within a quarter of a mile from Crown Park to better serve Prune Hill and the southeast side of Lacamas Lake; and relocating Station 43 in Washougal to the area near “G” and Ninth streets to better serve that city’s northwest area.