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Jan. 27, 2020

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Fire district merger up to voters

Fire District 2 has already contracted services from Clark County Fire & Rescue

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
5 Photos
Clark County Fire & Rescue Division Chief of Operations Mike Jackson stands outside Fire District 2's fire station, which is used for storage since nobody operates out of it at the moment. It was previously used by volunteers who came from the former Woodland Fire Department. District 2 residents will vote on a potential merger with Clark County Fire & Rescue on Aug. 2. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
Clark County Fire & Rescue Division Chief of Operations Mike Jackson stands outside Fire District 2's fire station, which is used for storage since nobody operates out of it at the moment. It was previously used by volunteers who came from the former Woodland Fire Department. District 2 residents will vote on a potential merger with Clark County Fire & Rescue on Aug. 2. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After years of discussion and shared services, Clark County Fire District 2 might merge with Clark County Fire & Rescue.

Residents of District 2 will decide whether to merge during a vote on Aug. 2. To pass, the vote will require a simple majority.

District 2 covers a small portion of Clark County between Woodland and La Center. Clark County Fire & Rescue covers Ridgefield, La Center and Woodland and nearby rural areas.

District 2, which has been around since the 1960s, previously contracted with the former Woodland Fire Department for services, said Clark County Fire & Rescue Division Chief of Operations Mike Jackson, who was also chief of the Woodland Fire Department. The Woodland Fire Department merged with CCFR in 2013, and since then, District 2 has contracted services from CCFR.

District 2 has one fire station, at 314 N.W. 389th St. in Woodland, which nobody operates out of at the moment, and it owns a fire engine, water tender and brush truck, Jackson said. The tender is at another station in Woodland, while the fire engine is at a station in La Center, where it’s a reserve. District 2’s fire station is used for storage.

“Being a rural area like that, it was a tough area to recruit volunteers from,” he said. “They partnered with Woodland to maintain its force.”

When Woodland merged with CCFR, the regional agency took over responding to calls in District 2 from stations in La Center or Woodland, which are staffed 24 hours a day.

District 2 serves a population of about 2,100, and Clark County Fire & Rescue responded to 206 calls in District 2 in 2015, according to Clark County Fire & Rescue Chief John Nohr.

The merger was first discussed in 2011, Jackson said, adding that the state auditor’s office has questioned why residents in District 2 pay less for their fire service than residents in the rest of CCFR’s coverage area.

Residents in District 2 currently pay 69 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value for fire services, which is the lowest rate in Washington, Jackson said. Residents in Woodland pay $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value, and the rest of the CCFR’s coverage area pays between $1.45 and $1.50 per $1,000 for service, Nohr said.

“They’ve had that low a tax rate for a very long time,” he said. “Most folks seems to understand the demand for service has gone up and the ability to maintain volunteers has become more difficult.”

Should the merger go through, the rate for residents in District 2 will go up to around $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, Nohr said.

“It’s ensuring a consistent level of service,” Nohr said. “The fire commissioners in that area, longtime board members, support this. To get the levels of service they enjoy, they’re going to have to pay the same amount everybody else is paying.”

Jackson said CCFR and District 2’s board wanted to get out “ahead of the curve so (District 2) is not left without service or with lesser service,” adding that nobody wanted a situation where CCFR had to cut ties with District 2 or calculate what lesser services it could provide.

“This ballot measure is trying to provide that long- term solution before it becomes an urgent problem,” he said.

If the merger vote is passed, that would bring in about $200,000 in new revenue for CCFR, according to Nohr. Because the vote is in August, Clark County will have already completed the 2017 property tax assessments by then, meaning the first full year of the new rate wouldn’t be until 2018, according to Nohr.

Nohr said he’d like to use the additional money to further train the responders in other stations, making sure there is always a paramedic in the La Center or Woodland stations.

“The ambulance service here in the county has left North County underserved,” he said. “There’s good response times in the core of Vancouver and in areas like Hazel Dell. But in less populated areas, a lot of times it’s a best effort to get an ambulance up there. I want to ensure that there are paramedics up there so we can start providing advanced levels of care and not have to wait 18 or 20 or 22 minutes.”

Nohr also said he can see using the station for summertime staffing of a brush unit “during the weekday hours when we have higher risk” at some point down the line.

“It’s very rural in some areas,” he said. “If a fire got out of hand, it would take a lot of resources to take care of it, and the faster we get there, the better.”

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