Two with firefighting experience seek seats on fire district's board

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Two candidates are vying for Position 1 on Clark County Fire & Rescue's Board of Commissioners after Richard Britschgi, who currently holds the seat, lost the Aug. 6 primary. The board runs the fire protection district that serves more than 120 square miles in Ridgefield, La Center, Battle Ground and Woodland.

Commissioners typically meet twice a month, earning $114 for every meeting they attend, including additional committees, up to $10,944 annually during their six-year term. The primary duties of the commissioners consist of setting the budget, establishing policies and hiring the fire chief, who oversees the district's day-to-day operations.

photoFrank Mazna

W. "Frank" Mazna

Vancouver fire Capt. Frank Mazna has been with the department for 27 years and served as a fire commissioner for districts 12 and 14 from 2000 to 2006. In the primary election, Mazna received 34.46 percent of the vote.

If elected, he wants to focus on getting the taxpayers the most bang for their buck.

"In order be sustainable, we need to seek other sources of funding," Mazna said.

Some of the cigarette tax could be allocated to the fire departments, he said, which respond to incidents involving cigarettes. Firefighters extinguish house fires and brush fires sparked by cigarettes, and they go to medical calls for people with health conditions stemming from cigarette use.

"We've been doing the status quo and nothing's changing, nothing's getting better," Mazna said. "We need to run the fire department more as a business."

Mazna said there's a fine line between the emergency work that firefighters do and the service work that can be charged to a private company. A firefighter's job, he said, is to provide emergency response, and if the district continues responding to nonemergencies, that may result in significant time delays or in emergency calls going unanswered.

"The bottom line is that we've over-marketed 911," Mazna said.

For instance, firefighters perform lift assists after someone has fallen at a care facility. When they do this, Mazna said, they're supporting that care facility's bottom line. He wants to shift responsibility on the care facility to provide the staffing and resources necessary to pick up someone who has fallen. Another instance where he thinks the line is blurred is during the overhaul stage of a fire. At this point, firefighters are tired and overworked. Their job is to make sure the fire is out, not to clean up the mess the fire made -- work that can be done by the insurance company, Mazna said.

Firefighters should be more inclined to do their job as best they can, he said, not to do everything.

"As long as times are tight, we need to focus on our core mission," Mazna said.

He also looks to pool resources and collaborate on public education efforts with other agencies providing emergency services. Bringing in a team of community members to brainstorm and present ideas to could bring more transparency to the fire district.

"No matter what happens, I think [the election] has brought up a lot of really good issues," Mazna said.

photoDavid Town

David Town

After serving as commissioner and volunteer firefighter for Fire District 12 between 1986 and 2000, David Town wants to get back into the fire service. He retired from his job as an international union representative, giving him more time to give back to the community.

In the primary election, Town received 47.29 percent of the vote. He's since been actively campaigning at City Halls, city council meetings and Port of Ridgefield board meetings. Town also launched a joint campaign with Position 5 candidate Larry Bartel. Both aim to absorb Woodland and Battle Ground into the fire protection district, creating a regional fire authority. The cities, currently under contract in the district, postponed talks until after the first of the year when the commission will welcome at least one new member. Current Commissioner Richard Britschgi, who has served the district since 2010, lost the primary election for Position 1.

Through his campaign, Town learned that people in Ridgefield felt left out of the fire service. The city's main station, 911 N. 65th St., is housed just by volunteers; a few full-time firefighters work out of Station 24, 117 N. Third Ave. However, he looks to Chief Dennis Mason for guidance on any possible operational changes. Town recognizes that he's been out of the commissioner game for a while and that the district has undergone significant changes, including redrawing its boundaries. So, there's a learning curve to what he's pursuing.

He looks to restore part-time paid firefighters that filled in when full-time firefighters went on vacation. These positions not only covered personnel, they helped people new to the fire service gain experience.

"We've hired quite a few people through that program," Town said.

Public education, Town said, fell to the wayside during recessional budget cuts. He looks to restore programs that install smoke detectors, promote boating safety and give out life jackets, and educate people on how to install child car seats because they are "preventative medicine."

He believes that current funding and prospective increased revenue will provide for these programs without levies or additional taxes.

Neither Town nor Mazna has raised any money so far, according to the state's Public Disclosure Commission.