East County Fire and Rescue to hold Q&A sessions on levy lid lift

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East County Fire and Rescue will hold two question and answer sessions ahead of the August 6 primary election about Ballot Measure 5, a fire levy lid lift measure that will appear on the ballot.

The first session will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday July 18, at Station 91, located at 600 N.E. 267th Ave., in Camas. The second session will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 27, at Station 94, located at 1808 S.E. 352nd Ave., Washougal.

ECFR Fire Chief Ed Hartin will deliver a short presentation and answer any questions.

The fire district experiences a high turnover of emergency personnel. Volunteer firefighter turnover is significant as they manage work and family commitments. Turnover is also significant for part-time emergency personnel. In 2023, it was 100% and district officials said they have been unable to fill the positions as people leave for agencies that offer full-time employment. This means full-time firefighters must work significant overtime, which costs taxpayers more and has physical and mental impacts resulting in staffing shortages.

The district consistently staffs Station 91, as it has higher call volumes but must close Station 94 on the other side of the Washougal River when there is insufficient staffing. This delays response times, as does relying on mutual aid to respond from a neighboring agency. Fire district officials said this staffing pattern is not sustainable and can jeopardize the outcome of emergency calls.

ECFR leaders said they diligently maintain emergency apparatus to extend their usable lives, but that half of the district’s fire engines and water tenders have reached the end of service lives and will require replacement. Only one of the district’s three fire engines passed its annual performance test in 2023. No water tenders, which are used to transport water to fires, passed inspection. The engines and water tenders that did not pass continue to require repair to remain in service. ECFR must purchase replacements and prefer to pay cash instead of financing these purchases, saving taxpayer money in interest payments. The district also needs to replace firefighter equipment, such as protective clothing and emergency radios.

The fire district is asking voters to restore the fire levy to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2024. The lid lift would cost the owner of a $650,000 home around $23 per month.

The lid lift would last for one year and fund four full-time personnel to increase the reliability of staffing both stations full-time and save money towards purchasing two engines and water tenders by 2032.

ECFR provides fire and life safety services serving 10,500 people over 60 square miles north of Camas-Washougal using a combination of full-time, part-time and volunteer staff, who respond to an average of 1,100 calls a year on both sides of the Washougal River. ECFR operates under a balanced budget, is debt-free for the first time in its history and has passed all its financial and accountability audits by the state.