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News / Clark County News

East County Fire & Rescue chief fired

Koehler had led award-winning agency since 2002

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter
Published: January 13, 2015, 4:00pm

In a meeting convened last week, East County Fire & Rescue’s board of commissioners quietly fired the district’s longtime chief, Scott Koehler.

The decision came in a 3-0 vote, as Commissioners Martha Martin, Mike Berg and Tom Gianatasio decided it was time for new leadership at the award-winning agency.

Koehler, 55, of Washougal, had been in the position since 2002.

The termination came less than a month after Koehler had been designated a chief fire officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Only about 1,000 people across the nation have received the award, which recognizes education, leadership and management skills.

Koehler’s termination caps a recent wave of departures from the administrative roster at the rural fire district, which serves a 60-square-mile area of unincorporated Clark County just outside Camas and Washougal. Since October, three longtime commissioners have resigned, as well.

Neither the commissioners nor Koehler responded to The Columbian’s requests for comment on the situation.

On Monday night, East County Fire & Rescue released a brief statement, thanking Koehler for his service but declining to go into detail about why he was fired.

“With recent changes in the Board, the Board determined that it would be in the best interest of East County Fire & Rescue and its citizens if the Board proceeded with new leadership,” the statement reads. “The Board of Commissioners appreciates the lengthy service of Chief Koehler to the community and citizens of East County Fire & Rescue and wishes him well in his future endeavors.”

The resignations began in October with Gary Larson, the former chairman, who spent more than 30 years on the board.

Later that month, the Washington Fire Commissioners Association gave East County Fire & Rescue the first place award for management excellence among fire districts of its size — those operating with annual budgets between $500,000 and $2 million.

In December, Jack Hoober followed Larson’s lead, stepping down after more than 15 years as a commissioner. Finally, Commissioner Vic Rasmussen turned in his letter of resignation last week.

In recent years, East County Fire & Rescue’s administrators scraped and saved to preserve the agency’s staffing levels. The district’s six fire stations run on a tight crew of several dozen people, most of whom are volunteers.

Tensions at the district have built over a number of issues in the past year.

In the 2013 general election, the agency failed to pass a levy that would have provided funding to replace two fire engines. Koehler and the three former commissioners supported the measure, while commissioners Berg and Martin stood against it.

In recent months, the district has sought compensation from Camas and Washougal for responding to calls in their jurisdiction. Amid talks about a disparity in automatic aid traded between the district and the two cities, some have raised concerns about the potential for a growing rift between the two parties.

In Koehler’s place, Deputy Chief Dean Thornberry is the district’s interim chief. The next step in finding a permanent replacement will be determined at the district’s next board meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at Station 91, 600 N.E. 267th Ave. in Camas.

Columbian Small Cities Reporter