Vancouver City Council delays decision on Fire Station 6

It will decide whether to accept grant to reopen it 2 days before deadline

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Should we, or should we not?

The Vancouver City Council took audience comments Monday night about whether to accept a $2.3 million federal grant to reopen and staff Fire Station 6 — but they postponed a decision until Tuesday, Aug. 30.

That would be two days before the Sept. 1 deadline.

Numerous neighborhood association members are urging city officials to accept the two-year grant, but the issue has several snags for Vancouver’s budget makers.

For one thing, the firefighter’s union, which has asked for a wage increase of 8.2 percent, apparently has not reached agreement with the city.

“Until the contract is settled or an arbitration decision is issued, the city does not know what the costs will be to continue to provide fire services at current or desired levels,” according to a city staff report dated Monday and issued at the meeting.

And there’s another catch: The grant mandates that the city must keep its fire department staff at the same level as when the grant, if accepted, goes into effect for the entire two-year period. That means that, if more layoffs of city employees are necessary in the continuing economic downturn, other departments would shoulder the burden.

The staff report offers advantages and disadvantages.

Staffing the fire station at 3216 N.E. 112th Ave. with 13 additional firefighters would bring faster emergency response times in the area that includes many apartment complexes, private homes, businesses and SEH America.

On the downside, the staff report says, “Acceptance of the grant limits the City’s choices to maintain a balanced budget during a time of uncertainty.”

Several audience members made statements, all seeming to support opening the station, and several speakers offered ways of making it work.

Gary Schaeffer, co-chairman of the Image Neighborhood Association, said he’s been walking around talking to residents.

“I did not talk to anyone who was not in favor of taking the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant,” he said.

Why not bring in more volunteer firefighters, which could bring down costs? he asked.

And why not contract firefighting to a private contractor, which could mean predictable costs, Schaeffer asked.

Anne McEnerny-Ogle, a candidate for the Vancouver City Council and chairwoman of the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance, said leaders and neighbors from 14 neighborhoods met Aug. 10 and only one was opposed to accepting the grant.

She asked councilors to find a way to make the SAFER grant happen.

A public meeting on the issue is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 30. The location has not yet been decided.