RIDGEFIELD -- Two fire departments will soon become one.
Clark County Fire & Rescue will absorb the Woodland Fire Department on March 1, ending an 18-month review period and paving the way to create a regional fire authority.
Under a six-year contract, three firefighters and a fire chief who currently work for the Woodland Fire Department will join CCF&R. Woodland's fire station will be an annex for the growing fire district, which serves Battle Ground, Ridgefield, La Center and outlying rural areas.
Chief Dennis Mason said the contract will give the regional fire district more sway countywide, particularly with the Clark County Fire Chiefs Association, as it works on a broader goal of reconfiguring into an independently run regional fire authority.
"One of the direct benefits for us is, it gives us another staffed station in the event of a major incident," Mason said.
The merger -- expected to be finalized during Tuesday night's City Council meeting -- will follow nearly two years of talks about how to pay for Woodland's fire department, which has experienced a steep jump in the number of calls in recent years, at a time when funding has stayed relatively flat, officials said.
The Woodland Fire Department fields about 1,100 calls a year.
Last year, the city passed a controversial 6.5 percent utility tax to bolster funding for the fire department. The tax increase was a necessary step to pay for merging services, Mayor Grover Laseke said.
"We did not have sufficient money in our budget to enter into the contract, and we knew that," he said.
Both the city and the fire district consider the contract to be a step toward creating the regional fire authority, which would permanently merge fire services in the cities and rural areas that CCF&R serves.
It would take a majority vote of fire district residents to create such an arrangement, however. A fire authority would operate as an independent district with an elected board.