Report spells out costs of Camas-Washougal Fire Department needs

At least $33M needed to replace, build fire stations over next decade; downtown Camas station would not withstand major earthquake, consultants warn

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Fire and emergency response vehicles sit outside Camas-Washougal Fire Department's Fire Station 41 headquarters in downtown Camas in May 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

According to a consultant’s report delivered to Camas and Washougal city council members this month, in order to meet the needs of current and future Camas and Washougal residents, the cities’ joint fire department will need to replace two fire stations and build a third within the next 10 years.

“We projected out to 50 years from now to meet the needs of Camas and Washougal,” Cathy Bowman, the project manager for Mackenzie, the consultant group hired by Camas in early 2021 to conduct a capital facilities plan for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) told Camas City Council members on Oct. 4.

The report lines up with another consultant evaluation in 2019, which examined the fire department’s response times and said CWFD would likely need to relocate the downtown Camas Station 41 as well as the Washougal-based Station 43 and build a new station to respond to fires and emergency medical calls within the 4-minute (for initial response) and 8-minute (for a full response) standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

The 2021 Mackenzie report presented to Camas and Washougal city councils this month recommends:

  • Replacing the downtown Camas-based CWFD headquarters — which consultants warned does not currently meet the guidelines for “an essential facility” and would not withstand a major earthquake — in the next two to three years;
  • Replacing the Washougal fire station in the next five to seven years; and
  • Building a third fire station in Camas within the next 10 years.

Excluding any necessary land purchases, the consultants projected the total cost of replacing the two existing CWFD fire stations and building a third station would be between $33 million and $36.5 million. After accounting for the cities’ fire impact fees, local officials would still face a funding gap of between $27.5 million and $30.8 million, the consultants’ report showed.

City leaders will likely consider a mix of tools to help fund the necessary fire department facility needs, including increasing fire impact fees; asking voters to approve construction bonds, a public-safety sales tax and/or an excess levy; and selling surplus land.

The consultants told Camas City Council members on Oct. 4, that fire impact fees in Camas-Washougal are lower compared to other comparable jurisdictions. The fire impact fees on a single-family home in Camas are $400 and range between $401.60 and $502 in Washougal; for a multifamily unit, the fees are $148 in Camas and $248 in Washougal; and for a commercial building, the fees are 40 cents per square foot in Camas and 31 cents per square foot in Washougal.

The Camas-Washougal fire impact fees are lower than nearby Battle Ground, which charges developers $555 for a single-family home, $248 per multi-family unit and 50 cents per square foot for commercial buildings to help fund its fire department needs; and are significantly lower than some Washington cities included in the consultant’s report. For instance, in Shoreline, a community with a little more than 56,000 residents located nine miles north of Seattle, the fire impact fees climb to $2,311 for a single-family home, $2,002 per unit for a multi-family building and between $1.83 and $5.73 per square foot for commercial developments.

Camas City Councilwoman Shannon Roberts asked the consultants how much the city would need to increase its fire impact fees to cover the more than $30 million cost of replacing the two fire stations and building a third within the next decade.

“You would not be able to cover (the cost) with fire impact fees,” Chris Blakney, an in-house economist with Mackenzie, told Roberts, adding that the fees collected on future development would be earmarked for “growth-related fire costs” and ineligible for the department’s current needs.

Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher added that the CWFD currently has about $1 million in fire impact fees that cannot be used until the department has an updated capital facilities plan in place.

“The department has not had a capital facilities plan in over 20 years,” added CWFD Fire Chief Nick Swinhart in his report to Camas City Council members. “The data tells us that our plan is outdated enough that it must be updated before fire impact fees can be used for further community and development growth.”

According to the consultant’s report, Camas’ newest fire station, Fire Station 42, located off Northwest Parker Street, can remain where it is today. Fire Station 41, the department’s headquarters at 616 N.E. Fourth Ave., in downtown Camas, “could be moved to the west to shorten the coverage gap between it and Station 42,” the consultants told city officials in Camas on Oct. 4, adding that Camas “will need to add at least two more stations” in the city’s northwest corner and “midway down the north side of Lacamas Lake” while Washougal “will need to add at least one, if not two, more fire station(s) at some point in the 2030s” to serve the area’s growing population.

Fire department also must replace vehicles, tools

Buildings are not the only thing the joint fire department will need over the next few years, the consultants told city officials this month.

“It’s not only a new station and (fire station) replacements in the next 10 years,” Bowman told Camas officials on Oct. 4, “it’s also apparatus replacements.”

The consultant’s report showed the CWFD will need to replace four fire engines, one ladder truck, four rescue tools and two brush rigs within the next decade.

Bowman said the approximate cost will be $4.34 million: $2.94 million for four new fire engines, $1,050,000 for a new ladder truck, $300,000 for two brush rigs and $54,600 for the rescue tools.

“These are approximate costs at this time,” Bowman added.

Councilwoman Roberts asked how the fire department managers determine when a vehicle needs to be replaced.

Fire Chief Swinhart said the decision is based on “how much it’s costing to keep them maintained,” adding that the fire department replaced a ladder truck about 10 years ago after realizing the truck was costing Camas roughly $25,000 a year to maintain and that many of the truck’s parts were no longer readily available for replacement.

“It was just too expensive to keep updated,” Swinhart said.

Camas mayor: ‘2022 is going to be the year of fire’

Camas Mayor Ellen Burton noted that the report shows city leaders in Camas and Washougal have limited time to figure out the financing for replacing the downtown Camas CWFD headquarters.

“We have a couple years to design and build, a couple to figure out financing,” Burton said. “And, in the meantime, the station could fail.”

Stewart Gary, a former fire chief who now acts as the public safety principal for Citygate Associates, LLC, a fire and emergency services consulting group brought in by Mackenzie to help produce the capital facilities plan for the CWFD, agreed.

“The current facilities are in need of replacement within the next few years or you do run the risk of not being able to respond out of the current facilities to your community,” Gary said, adding that the current CWFD headquarters, located next to Camas City Hall, would “not meet the essential-facilities code in a major earthquake.”

The consultants will present the city councils and fire department administrators with a full capital facilities report within the next few weeks. The Camas City Council will need to approve the capital facilities plan and figure out how to raise over $30 million to pay for the fire department facility replacements and new construction.

“2022 is going to be the year of fire,” Burton said. “This is a huge focus (for the city of Camas) and there is some urgency in moving to some viable alternatives and making some choices.”

Bowman, the project manager for Mackenzie, said next steps for city leaders will include coming up with funding mechanisms for the fire department’s facility needs and looking into possible sites for the replacement stations and the third Camas fire station.

“You’re just expanding well beyond the reach of the current fire stations,” Gary warned Camas City Council members. “You have growth occurring outside your urban/suburban fire reach. As growth trickles in, you could find community members — hopefully not after a tragedy — saying, ‘Where’s my fire station? And why isn’t it closer?”