Vancouver Fire Department quits training group

Clark County Fire & Rescue, Fire District 6 to continue to pool resources

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Citing differences in administrative processes and training models, the Vancouver Fire Department is backing out of a training group it formed with two other local fire agencies in May.

Clark County Fire & Rescue and Fire District 6, the two other agencies in the group, will continue pooling resources.

Vancouver fire operates differently than Fire District 6 and Clark County Fire & Rescue, said Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina.

“The biggest challenge we were seeing was having an outside agency working through the city,” Molina said. While the Vancouver Fire Department has to report to the city, he said, the other agencies are more autonomous.

One example: The fire districts needed to learn the city procedures when preparing for live fire training. Vancouver fire has to go through what Molina termed a “high level of oversight” with other city departments that can’t really be done without a lot of lead time. Fire districts can use their own resources to prepare for live training, he said.

When the groups merged, they predicted that pooling resources and eliminating duplicated positions would save more than $300,000 in personnel costs in all three agencies.

The other two agencies may still have some savings by staying together, but projected savings “have basically been negated” for Vancouver, Molina said.

Post to be filled

Before the consolidation, the departments had three training-division chiefs, 12 training captains and several administration assistants. After the consolidation, they had one training chief, eight training captains and one person doing administrative work.

Now out of the group, Vancouver will need to fill one of its vacant chief positions as a training position. If it remained in the group, that position could have been used elsewhere, Molina said.

The department is considering whether the position will be at the battalion chief or higher division chief level. A battalion chief earns between $91,824 and $110,688 annually, and a division chief earns somewhere between $95,100 and $115,500 annually, Molina said.

In the meantime, Battalion Chief Rick Huffman is filling in as interim chief of training for Vancouver.

Mike Ciraulo, the training division chief for Clark County Fire & Rescue, headed the consolidated training group. He thought the group worked well together, but administration at the city wasn’t aligning as well as the two other agencies.

He said things won’t change much for his agency or Fire District 6.

“I’m really confident with the staff I have from Clark County Fire & Rescue and Fire District 6 that we can provide efficient training to our firefighters,” Ciraulo said.

Fire District 6 Assistant Chief of Operations Eric Quitslund said it’s unfortunate that Vancouver dropped out of the group.

“Does it mean that everything just falls apart? No. We’re just going to move forward doing what we were doing,” Quitslund said.

Coming together was a step in the right direction but there were risks, said Molina.

“We knew there was a potential this would happen,” Molina said. “I’m just happy we didn’t go back to three (training groups). We’ve moved a long way from where we were a few years ago.”

Molina said his department would still participate in joint training exercises with the other agencies when possible. Lessons learned from the merger will be used as the department explores other regional opportunities, he said.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; paul.suarez@columbian.com.