For the first time in years, all three seats up for election on the East County Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners are being challenged in the Nov. 8 General Election.
The three incumbents with more than 50 years of history on the commission between them are hoping to retain their seats against as the run against three men with a total of nearly 90 years of career fire fighting and on-the-job emergency services experience.
Unfortunately, some of the rhetoric in these particular races has turned ugly. The most notable illustration is a website created and managed by ECFR volunteers in support of the incumbents, which in part appears to serve as a channel to spread rumors about the perceived intentions of those challenging the incumbents, without presenting real facts to back the accusations up.
But putting all of the political game playing aside, when making a decision about who to vote for in these ECFR races citizens should take a close look at the experience of the candidates, what shape the district is in currently, and how the candidates say they plan to address critical issues. Taking these factors into account, the Post-Record recommends Gary Larson, Jack Hoober and John Clancy for re-election to the ECFR Commission.
Larson, Hoober and Clancy, who have served on the ECFR Commission for 32, 12, and 7 years, respectively, have guided the district well. This includes a successful merger of Clark County Fire Districts 1 and 9 in 2006, which created ECFR.
And after weathering financial challenges that have come with a difficult economy punctuated by decreasing assessed values, ECFR still finds itself in decent financial shape thanks to budget tightening and successful pursuit of grant funding, which recently allowed the district to add a handful of new paid firefighter positions to its roster. Even Position 1 candidate Kenny Cochran admitted the district is in solid financial shape, making it a good time, he said, to run for election.
Also to the current ECFR leadership’s credit, although retaining volunteers has been admittedly challenging at times, a strong core group of dedicated, experienced volunteers has been maintained.
The level of training of those volunteers came to the surface as a platform topic for challengers Cochran, Tom Gianatasio and Brooks Cooper, all saying that the district’s standards should be analyzed and increased. However, ECFR already must adhere to strict state and national requirements when it comes to volunteer training and ongoing education, which includes in-house and off-site classes.
Illustrating the district’s commitment to training is the funding of a position dedicated specifically to this purpose. Given the constraints of many volunteers (the vast majority have other careers and do not intend to pursue fire fighting as a profession) asking them to meet standards over and above the current National Fire Protection Association Firefighter I and II levels does not seem realistic or financially feasible for a rural district like ECFR.
Another key issue in this election has been the future possibility of a merger between the Camas and Washougal fire departments. Cochran and Cooper say the district should pursue this option.
Although efforts toward this end goal have failed more than once in the past, when questioned by the Post-Record, all three incumbents noted, at times with reservation, that they are open to improving relationships at the administrative level with Camas and Washougal fire departments and one day exploring the possibility a merger with these entities. At this point, being cautious about embarking on this kind of major endeavor is the right move, until enough thorough research about all of its impacts on the district and the community can be discovered.
The three challengers, Cooper, Cochran and Gianatasio all undoubtedly have a passion for fire service and to serve their communities, but these attributes do not outweigh the long-term experience and history of sound decision making possessed by the incumbents.
For these reasons, the Post-Record recommends re-election of Gary Larson, Jack Hoober and John Clancy to the East County Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners.
Editor’s note: Post-Record Managing Editor Heather Acheson is a resident of the East County Fire and Rescue district and has an extended family member who is employed at the administrative level by ECFR.