Cities agree to extend fire agreement

Officials will ask voters to approve a regional fire authority plan in 2025

timestamp icon
category icon Camas, Government, Latest News, News, News, Washougal
A fire engine is pictured at the Camas-Washougal Fire Department Station 42 in Camas, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Contributed photo by Alisha Jucevic, courtesy of The Columbian)

Camas and Washougal city officials this week agreed to extend the decade-long interlocal agreement that merged the two cities’ fire departments into the joint Camas-Washougal Fire Department (CWFD) in 2013, and to place a regional fire authority proposal before local voters in 2025.

The city councils both met separately Monday, Jan. 29, to review and approve the updated interlocal agreement (ILA), which will now expire Dec. 31, 2026. The Councils also agreed to present a regional fire authority (RFA) proposal before voters during the April 2025 special election and/or the November 2025 general election.

“In the event of the failure of either council to approve a resolution placing on the ballot any RFA (proposal) … or in the event the November 2025 RFA … fails to pass, then the parties shall commence the termination process outlined,” states the updated agreement signed by Camas-Washougal officials Monday, Jan. 29.

“Upon adoption, there is direction to staff to go forward and follow timelines the best you can,” Camas City Attorney Shawn MacPherson told Council members Monday.

In December 2023, officials in both cities agreed to extend the original ILA, which was set to expire at the end of 2023, through Jan. 31, 2024, to give fire department and city leaders a chance to nail down details of the updated agreement.

In anticipation of the ILA’s expiration, Camas and Washougal officials and fire department leaders spent more than a year discussing how the cities would maintain a joint fire department and provide the same level of fire and emergency medical services Camas-Washougal residents are used to, without straining Washougal’s more limited revenues.

Under the original agreement, the cities split the fire department’s costs 60-40, with the city of Camas paying around 60% of the department’s costs and the city of Washougal paying around 40%.

Both cities use their general fund — which also pays for things like streets, police and parks — to fund the fire portion of the CWFD and have voter-approved levies to pay for the fire department’s emergency medical services.

In recent years, however, Washougal officials have said their city could not afford the staffing increases CWFD leaders have said are necessary to keep up with the area’s growing population and emergency service needs.

The updated ILA states that, “as both cities grew over time,” so too did service calls for fire and emergency medical services, leading to a need for an increase in the fire department’s staffing levels.

In the new agreement, the cities note that Washougal has now paid the $369,553 owed to Camas for the 2022-24 staffing increases.

“Payments were resolved (and are) satisfactory to our expectations,” Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn told Camas City Council members Monday, adding that the updated ILA altered the funding formula, with Camas expected to pay for roughly 64% of the costs going forward.

The new ILA also allows for the possibility of increasing CWFD staffing levels if CWFD Fire Chief Cliff Free “feels there is an emerging need or service not being provided,” Quinn said.

Under the new agreement, the CWFD will staff, at a minimum, “during normal operations,” one type 1 fire company per station; one staffed medic company per station; and two wildland engines available for cross-staffing if needed.

The fire department’s minimum daily staffing model will include 13 line positions; a minimum of three captains or acting captains; a minimum of six lead paramedics; and a minimum of one battalion chief or acting battalion chief.

Also stated under the new agreement is a note that all of the engine companies will have a minimum of one captain and one paramedic; and that all ambulances will be staffed with a minimum of one qualified paramedic and one emergency medical technician (EMT).

Council members in both cities had few questions before agreeing to adopt the updated ILA Monday, but Camas Councilman Tim Hein did question what might happen if Washougal failed to make a payment to Camas.

“Payments are due and payable 30 days from invoice date?” Hein asked Quinn and MacPherson Monday. “And if (payments are) not received in 30 days? Are there actions we can take if it’s not done? I don’t want the past to come back in the future.”

MacPherson explained that the updated agreement still has a default notice, which would allow either city to terminate the ILA after two late payments within one year’s time.