Washougal-Camas fire merger backed

Panel urges cities to make arrangement permanent

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

CAMAS — A committee of Camas and Washougal leaders Tuesday night recommended forging ahead with a long-term partnership between the cities’ fire departments.

The action comes more than two years after the departments temporarily merged.

But before the cities green-light an interlocal agreement, which will lay the groundwork for a consolidation of fire services, both councils will have to hash out how to structure it.

A joint meeting between the two city councils will likely be scheduled for late March or early April, Camas City Administrator Nina Regor said.

Fine-tuning the details of the agreement is expected to take more time.

In comments to the committee, Regor said it might be necessary to extend the cities’ temporary partnership, which is set to sunset at the end of the year.

“Coming up with a new model and its terms may not be possible by the deadline,” Regor told the committee.

Camas and Washougal have shared firefighters, paramedics, captains and battalion chiefs on a trial basis since 2011. Merging services is considered a way to save money for the departments.

Last year, the cities extended the temporary merger through the end of 2013, a move that was intended to provide enough time for a newly formed committee to study the future of the fire departments.

For firefighters, a long-term consolidation can’t come soon enough. They’ve been working without a contract since Jan. 4.

“We understand the constraints and the process,” union President Kevin Bergstrom said. “But the concern is we’ve been here this long; we’ve proven (consolidation) works, so do we need to analyze it to death, so to speak?”

The exploratory committee that made Tuesday’s recommendation has worked for the past year to investigate three long-term options for combining fire and EMS services, including such possibilities as merging them permanently, keeping them separate or creating a new regional fire authority.

With Tuesday’s recommendation, the committee also decided to cease looking into creating a regional fire authority, which would require voter approval and result in the creation of a new independent board.

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