Woodland mulls teaming up on fire services

Union with county would save money, expand resources

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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The city of Woodland is considering contracting with Clark County Fire and Rescue in hopes of streamlining costs and providing more efficient services, city officials said.

But before the two sides can come to an agreement, Woodland officials will have to decide whether the city has the available money in its budget to pay for a public safety upgrade.

As Woodland’s call volume increased 20 percent in the past three years, the city’s financing of its fire department has remained “somewhat underfunded,” Fire Chief Michael Jackson said.

A paid arrangement with Clark County Fire and Rescue would improve staffing, ambulatory services and training, but it remains uncertain whether the city can afford spending between $120,000 to $140,000 in 2012 on such a contract. The city would have to decide between the need to repair roads and the need for better fire and ambulatory services, for instance, said Benjamin Fredricks, chairman of the city’s finance committee.

Should the paid arrangement happen it would be the first step toward a regional fire authority in north Clark County that would consolidate fire operations and costs for all involved, Woodland officials said.

Under such a scenario, there would no longer be a Woodland Fire Department but the residents of Woodland would have access to better fire and emergency response resources, Jackson said.

A major reason why Woodland needs to sign an agreement with Clark County Fire and Rescue is its current staffing system is “not sustainable,” Jackson said.

“If one person is out sick or injured, it creates a staffing shortage,” he said, noting his department has three full-time firefighters and relies mostly on its 38 volunteers and four interns. Contracting with Clark County Fire and Rescue would ensure there were at least two available full-time firefighters in the city at a time, he added.

A contract with Clark County Fire and Rescue would also improve emergency response, Jackson said, because Clark County provides advanced life support services, something Woodland does not have.

“It assists us in absorbing costs and assists us in efficiencies and broadens our resources,” said Woodland Councilwoman Marilee McCall, who heads the city’s public safety committee. McCall noted it would help the city retain volunteers better.

Jackson also anticipates partnering with Clark County Fire and Rescue would improve his department’s fire insurance rating, meaning residents would likely pay less on their fire insurance.

Talk of a paid arrangement between Clark County Fire and Rescue and Woodland has not moved further than that, Clark County officials said.

“It’s an idea that’s been talked about,” said Larry Bartel, deputy chief of support services with Clark County Fire and Rescue. He stressed no official recommendations had been made by either side.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.