ECFR State of the District: A year of progress and challenges

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In January 2024, we experienced an unprecedented period of windy, freezing weather that left many without power and unable to drive on icy roads. Many residents reached out to each other with offers of assistance. East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) was busy on calls for residents with house fires, medical emergencies, trees blocking roads, broken water pipes and traffic accidents. Our firefighters worked diligently to keep people safe during that time, as they do every day.

The wind and cold changed the landscape, and ECFR also saw significant change over the last year — 2023 began with the retirement of Chief Mike Carnes and hiring of Chief Ed Hartin, who joined the district with 49 years in the career fire service with diverse experience in urban, suburban and rural fire agencies, and hit the ground running.

There were three major accomplishments that were the prime focus in 2023 for our fire district: community visibility, finances and operations.

Community visibility: We have made our operations more open and easier to access by launching a new website ( and engaging more on social media. This helps everyone stay updated on how we work, manage our finances and govern the district. Our new logo combines the traditional fire service Maltese cross with symbols of our unique area: the river, forests and mountains. We’re also working to better educate the public about our service area and how we support our rural community.

Finances: We created detailed financial policies and a strong, long-term plan to secure our district’s future. This plan outlines our finances and a strategy for how we’ll keep serving our community. We also revamped our budgeting and accounting to make our finances clearer. Importantly, we paid off our remaining debt two years early, making the fire district debt-free for the first time.

Operations: We updated our strategic plan to better match our mission, values and commitment to ongoing improvement. This plan sets clear goals, ways to measure our performance and steps for our operations. For instance, we adjusted our vehicle fleet by selling off those that were outdated or not needed, adding the proceeds to our capital projects fund. Since our 2019 lid lift, we saved sufficient funds to contract the purchase of a new fire engine without incurring debt, replacing an old one that is expensive to maintain.

With ECFR’s considerable progress came the need to face our challenges, particularly in staffing and equipment sustainability.

Additional staffing and apparatus are needed: ECFR is dealing with high turnover among our part-time staff, leading to more overtime for our full-time firefighters. This not only raises our costs but also wears out our team. Sometimes, we even have to close Station 94, which slows our response times. Although we take diligent care of our emergency vehicles to help them last longer, nearly half of our fire engines and water tenders are old, expensive to maintain and need replacing. In 2023, only one of our three fire engines passed its annual test, and all our water tenders failed. They need repairs and more maintenance to keep working. We plan to buy replacements without loans to avoid interest costs and must also regularly update firefighter gear like protective clothing and radios. These issues highlight the critical need for enough funding and a stable staffing plan to keep our fire stations running smoothly and our community safe.

Fire district funding: ECFR’s budget forecasts indicate we will face a shortfall in 2024 without extra funds. Our main source of income, the fire levy, is limited to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value (APV). Although set at $1.50 in 2019, as property values have increased, the rate we collect has dropped to $1.07 per $1,000 APV. With rising costs, the need for more firefighters and the necessity to update our equipment, our income is not keeping up with our needs. Occasionally, we ask the community to approve a “lid lift” to increase our levy rate temporarily. This helps us cover growing expenses and maintain emergency services. In 2024, we may propose a lid lift to hire four more full-time staff and plan for the purchase of two fire engines and two water tenders by 2032. This effort is crucial for ensuring our emergency services remain strong and responsive.

Despite these challenges, we are dedicated to serving our community with high standards and careful management of our funds. We encourage our residents to connect with us, share their thoughts and support our efforts to keep East County safe and secure.

ECFR is the 60-square-mile district located north and outside of the cities of Camas and Washougal, serving approximately 10,500 people. Every year since 2015, ECFR’s Board Chair has submitted this column as a special outreach to our citizens, as well as those in the areas we provide mutual aid (Camas, Washougal, Skamania County, Vancouver, etc.) 2023 Chair Martha Martin, 2024 Chair Joshua Seeds and Fire Chief Ed Hartin contributed to this year’s column.