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Nov. 28, 2021

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Vancouver population growth leads to greater need for fire department resources, officials say

The $12.7 million proposal includes personnel and support increases and new equipment

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Vancouver Fire Department officials are asking for an additional $12.7 million a year for new personnel and equipment to meet their goal to respond to calls promptly.

The funding request, presented to the Vancouver City Council on Monday, would add a new ladder truck and three paramedic squads, as well as cover facility upgrades, staffing and support increases.

City Manager Eric Holmes introduced funding options including using property tax revenue or considering a cost-sharing arrangement with Clark County Fire District 5, which already contracts with the city for fire and emergency medical services. Additionally, the city council could consider establishing a fire impact fee that would pay for a portion of capital costs.

Councilors showed support for the proposal but said they want elaboration on potential impacts, as well as how its implementation would look in the future.

Fire Chief Brennan Blue said the rapid growth of Vancouver is putting stress on emergency response teams. The population of the fire department’s service area grew approximately 22 percent in the past 10 years — and the department’s call volume reflects that.

Current Fire and EMS system

City of Vancouver and AMR, contract service provider for emergency medical services and ambulance transport:

Service area

• 89.2 square miles

• 288,218 population

Personnel

• 182 suppression

• 17 Fire Marshal’s Office

• 15 administration and support staff

Stations

• 10 stations – 11th opening in 2022

Apparatus

• 10 engines

• 2 trucks

• 1 rescue

Current biennial budget

2021: $50.57 million

2022: $50.12 million

Cost share

• 77.2 percent: city (general fund)

• 22.8 percent: district #5

SOURCE: City of Vancouver

“It takes one significant incident within our jurisdiction that puts us in a situation where we have little resources. We are under-resourced to meet our current service levels,” he said.

The fire department has 10 stations, with Station 11 under construction. It serves 89 square miles that are home to 288,000 people, and increasing population density has added stress to the fire department’s system, he said. This rapid growth and increased transportation congestion are main factors contributing to slower priority call and full alarm fire responses.

Currently, firefighters are responding to about 87 percent of priority calls in less than eight minutes — 5 percent below the city’s adopted service standard. Department responses to fire suppression alarms are also below the standard.

If the proposal is approved, the additional paramedic squads would be allocated to stations 2 (International District), 5 (Walnut Grove) and 9 (Fisher’s Landing). The ladder truck would be based at Station 8 (Cascade Park), which requires remodeling to accommodate the large vehicle. There would also be additional training, administration and logistics support staff at the fire stations.

Blue said these resources would vastly improve call concurrency, or when a unit is dispatched in an area in which an incident is already taking place, by allowing flexible call response. This is a prevalent issue in eight of the fire department’s station areas and a large contributor to resource strain, he said.

“The folks (at the fire department) are stressed and they work very hard,” Blue said. “I think we need to make an investment in our fire department to prepare for the future.”

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