Vancouver Fire Department goes under microscope

Panel will look for ways to improve how it delivers services; levy or bond could result

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Vancouver is convening a panel, which will spend the next few months looking at how to re-engineer the way the fire department delivers emergency services as budget restraints draw ever tighter.

The ultimate result of the panel could be a fire levy and/or bond, Fire Chief Joe Molina said Friday.

As a rough summary, Molina said with a $30 million budget, the department’s response time is 9 minutes or less with 90 percent of emergency calls. A complete analysis of the way VFD does business -- to find any possible improvements -- has to be done “before we go and say, ‘We need another X million dollars to get us down to eight minutes, or to seven minutes,’” Molina said.

“We need to be making sure we can do our best with our existing resources … and then let the people and the (city) council choose whether they want to further invest in those assets,” he said.The process is similar to the Blue Ribbon Commission that looked at Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation and provided numerous recommendations for that department. The Vancouver City Council has indicated it will put a property tax levy for parks on this November’s ballot.

Even without the idea of a possible future bond or levy, Molina said that with a new, much more technologically advanced emergency dispatch system in place, the time is ripe for reassessing the way his department operates.

“I won’t say (the system as it is now) is broken -- there’s some questions about operational efficiencies and effectiveness,” Molina said. “We’re really looking at what it costs to provide fire and EMS services out of the city’s general fund, and what are the outcomes we’re producing for that expense.”

A 12-member Community Resource Team, made up of business and neighborhood leaders, met for the first time April 19. Seven meetings are expected before the group makes its recommendations to City Manager Eric Holmes by Sept. 30.

The city and its fire unions signed a $179,000 contract with Vancouver-based consultants BergerABAM to facilitate the reassessment process, city spokeswoman Barbara Ayers said. Molina, the presidents of Vancouver’s two firefighter unions and other city officials serve as technical support for the community panel.

The consultants will also reevaluate all city fire stations and the operations center to ensure the equipment and stations are adequate and safe. Previous studies have predicted that several stations — including one built in 1934 — would crumble in the event of an earthquake.

The panel’s members are: Winston Asai, vice president of finance and chief financial officer at Columbia Machine; Sharif Burdzik, vice president/branch manager, Riverview Community Bank; David Copenhaver, chief executive officer, Venia Holdings; Larry Paulson, retired executive director, Port of Vancouver; Mary Elkin, Image Neighborhood Association; Jim Faull, Marion Neighborhood Association; Franklin Johnson, Bennington Neighborhood Association; Ross Montgomery, Airport Green Neighborhood Association; Scott Deutsch, risk manager, Evergreen School District; Lisa Morrison, medical director, Columbia United Providers; Randy Scheel, owner, Fort Vancouver Convalescent Center; and Elson Strahan, president and CEO, Fort Vancouver National Trust.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.