Fire services' consolidation studied

Camas, Washougal wouldn't see costs rise, financial analysis finds

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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A planned long-term consolidation of the Camas and Washougal fire departments won't cost the cities more than they're currently spending on fire and emergency services.

That's the conclusion of a financial analysis performed by Paul Lewis, consultant for an ad hoc committee composed of officials from both cities. By year's end, the committee hopes to have an inter-local agreement in place, signed by both councils, permanently combining the cities' fire and emergency medical services. The cities' fire departments have operated jointly, on a temporary basis, since 2011.

"We reviewed a number of different agreements," Lewis said. "When we apply the methodology (the analysis) showed the cost distribution would result in roughly the same costs they're currently incurring."

Lewis projects that Camas will devote about $4.4 million to fire and EMS services by 2015, whether it consolidates with Washougal or not. Washougal, meanwhile, will spend a sliver more than $2.6 million. The draft financial analysis doesn't consider reimbursements for wildland firefighting.

Camas will likely take the lead under an agreement. The city has provided contracted EMS services for Washougal and East County Fire & Rescue since 1977.

Creating parity between the two cities and underscoring how they work together remains something the committee will hash out. In particular, the committee will have to address seniority within a combined fire department.

Councilors Brent Boger, Connie Jo Freeman and Dave Shoemaker represent Washougal. For Camas, Councilors Don Chaney, Greg Anderson and Linda Dietzman sit on the committee.

The two fire departments have shared a bargaining unit for more than three years, said Nick Swinhart, fire chief for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.

"That has simplified things greatly," he said.

But the process of permanent consolidation has proven to be anything but simple, committee members say. Although a plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, that timetable may be pushed back, Swinhart said. The first year of consolidation is expected to be 2015.

"My personal perspective, having been involved in similar processes," Swinhart said, "is I don't think our timeline is that much different from other agencies when they're attempting to do something similar."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com