Three fire agencies train together, save together

Duplicated jobs are cut, freeing workers to staff fire engines

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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Three local fire agencies are pooling their resources to save more than $300,000 in personnel costs.

Clark County Fire & Rescue, Clark County Fire District 6 and Vancouver Fire Department have consolidated their three training divisions into one.

The fire commission boards and the Vancouver City Council recently approved an interlocal agreement among the agencies to share training services. Mike Ciraulo, the training division chief for Clark County Fire & Rescue, is now in charge of all three departments’ training operations.

The departments will save more than $300,000 by eliminating duplicated staff positions.

Much of the money saved will be reinvested in training and equipment. The departments will also save money by purchasing training materials at a discounted group rate.

Prior to the consolidation, the departments had a total of three training-division chiefs, 12 training captains and several administrative assistants. Now the departments have one training chief, eight captains and one person handling administrative work, Ciraulo said.

Nobody was laid off as a result of the consolidation, Ciraulo said. Vancouver and Fire District 6 had vacancies at their chief positions and other personnel were reassigned, he said.

“We were able to help get personnel back on the fire engines,” said Ciraulo, adding that trainers work office shifts.

All training-division personnel remain employees of their respective agencies but serve all three agencies. For example, Ciraulo is still employed and paid by Clark County Fire & Rescue, but he serves the three agencies equally, he said.

The three departments’ total staff is about 415, including paid and volunteer responders, Ciraulo said.

In addition to the financial savings, Ciraulo said the three departments will receive a higher level of training. Prior to the consolidation, some departments had more specialized training in certain areas. Now all firefighters and paramedics will receive the same training.

For example, Clark County Fire & Rescue — which serves the rural areas of La Center, Ridgefield and Battle Ground — had more specialists trained in wildland fires. Those trainers are sharing their knowledge with the other agencies, Ciraulo said.

“It raised the tide,” Ciraulo said. “Everyone is getting a higher level of training.”

Over the past three weeks, firefighters from the three agencies have gone through one of their first exercises under the new structure.

About 250 firefighters were given advanced auto extrication training at Metro Metals Northwest in Vancouver. The scrap metal company gave firefighters 100 vehicles to tear apart using extrication tools, Ciraulo said.

Consolidation talks began several years ago.

In 2008, the three agencies hired Emergency Services Consulting International to determine whether a consolidation was financially and operationally feasible, Ciraulo said.

In 2009, consultants reported that a consolidated training division would save money and improve the quality of training, he said. Following the report, the agencies drafted joint training manuals and operational manuals so all responders were using the same practices, Ciraulo said.

“(The consolidation) is kind of the final step to finalizing those recommendations that ESCI recommended several years ago,” he said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.

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