Camas, Washougal fire officials: Merger ‘better than expected’

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

More than two months since it began, the temporary merger between the Camas and Washougal fire departments is going “better than expected,” fire officials said last week.

Merging the departments has resulted in $20,000 in overtime-related EMS savings, staffing increases at Washougal’s fire station and a strong working relationship between new Camas Fire Chief Nick Swinhart and Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher, the two chiefs said.

Potential stumbling blocks, such as different operating procedures between the departments and the role of Washougal volunteers in the midst of the merger, have been non-issues, Schumacher said.

Schumacher and Swinhart will provide Washougal council members an update on the six-month merger during Monday night’s meeting. The Washougal council meets at 6 p.m. inside council chambers at 1701 C St.

The temporary merger stands a good chance of becoming permanent once 2012 arrives, Schumacher said.

“If I was a betting man, I’d say we’re probably on the plus side,” he said.

Whether the departments become one will largely depend on the Camas and Washougal councils. Four Washougal incumbents are running in the Nov. 8 general election, making it hard to predict how the new council will view the idea of joining its fire department with Camas’, Schumacher noted.

Swinhart sounded thrilled as he spoke about the two departments have assimilated.

“Things are going amazingly well,” said Swinhart, who became Camas’ chief in July. “At times, we’re pinching ourselves asking, ‘what’s wrong,’ because things seems to be going too well.”

The fire department merger arose from a plan approved by Camas and Washougal council members to reduce a $310,000 deficit to the EMS system used by both cities and East County Fire & Rescue. Declining tax revenues caused the shortage, officials said.

As part of a decades-old agreement, the Camas Fire Department provides paramedic services to residents in Camas and Washougal, plus those living in the East County Fire & Rescue district in parts of unincorporated Clark County. Residents pay a property tax for these services.

The Camas Fire Department will soon have a new person managing its EMS budget.

Interviews for the division chief of EMS serves will begin Oct. 4, Swinhart said, noting the interviews would be done by fire officials from outside Camas.

His goal is to fill the position by the end of October.

In addition to handling budget matters, the division chief would supervise training of paramedics and serve as acting chief when Swinhart is absent.

The position will be filled within the department and will not cost any additional money because it will replace the EMS captain position, Swinhart said.

Essentially the position’s title was renamed. Cliff Free has been serving as EMS captain in a temporary capacity, Swinhart said.

The new position will pay between $7,375 to $8,088 per month, or $88,500 to $97,056 annually, depending on the person’s experience.

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