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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Four Clark County fire districts see contested races for commissioners

Growth, staff, equipment among issues candidates address in campaigns

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: October 13, 2021, 6:05am

The direction of county fire agencies is on the Nov. 2 general election ballot with contested races for commissioner seats for Clark County Fire Districts 3, 5 and 6 and Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue. 

Fire District 6

Voters in the Felida, Salmon Creek and Hazel Dell areas will choose between incumbent Casey M. Collins and challenger Rocky L. Hanes for fire commissioner Position 3. 

Collins has served as fire commissioner since 2001. He also touted his 15 years with the Clark County Fire Risk Management Group and the two businesses he owns. He said he has lived in the fire district’s service area his entire life.

“I’ve grown with this fire department, and I understand and am qualified to meet its evolving needs,” Collins said in an email to The Columbian. 

Hanes’ fire career began when he attended the first Clark County Fire Cadet Program 30 years ago, he said. He has served on numerous boards and committees and is the secretary-treasurer for the Oregon State Firefighters Council, which oversees local firefighter unions. He is endorsed by Vancouver’s union, IAFF Local 452.

“I have the positive relationships, not only with our fire department administration, but with our firefighters and paramedics who serve our community day in and day out,” Hanes said. 

Collins said he believes adding another union member to the fire district’s board “would be restrictive to management and the community’s overall best interests.”

Both candidates are conscious of the growing demand on the fire district’s resources and said they plan to manage taxpayer dollars efficiently to address the increased need.

“We need to be innovative, and we can’t do that with the same thoughts that may have worked 20 years ago,” Hanes said.

Hanes feels communities within Fire District 6’s service area to the east of Interstate 5 are underserved. He wants to see response times to those areas improve.

Collins noted a need for updating and expanding the department’s equipment as the district’s service area becomes more dense and home to more multistoried housing.

Fire District 3

East Clark County and Battle Ground voters will choose whether to reelect incumbent Fire District 3 Commissioner Scott S. Anders or Battle Ground City Councilor Philip L. Johnson to the fire board.

Anders has served as commissioner since 2017, but first began with the fire district as its attorney 14 years ago. He attended the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., where he learned more about prosecuting arson cases, he said.

Johnson was mayor of Battle Ground in 2016 and 2017 and has served on city council since 2012. He’s said he is throwing his hat in the ring for fire commissioner to ensure Battle Ground residents are represented on the fire board since the city’s annexation into the district’s service area in January.

“I believe the fire district to be well-run and managed by its day-to-day operations people,” Johnson said. “My running for the position is simply to give half the district representation and a voice on the board.”

Both candidates foresee funding challenges since Battle Ground was annexed into the district. Both are supportive of the county adopting impact fees on growth within the district to support fire services before considering a new levy. 

Fire District 5

Voters will also decide whether Clark County Fire District 5 will keep Commissioner Ron Gibson on its board or if he will be replaced by clinical social worker Michelle Nicole Davis.

Gibson has served as fire commissioner since 2010. He hopes to ensure Fire District 5 continues to support the Vancouver Fire Department as it aims to expand the department with the growing city.

“I believe the biggest issue facing the fire district is supporting our service provider in their efforts to keep fire and EMS services timely,” he said. “If reelected, I will work tirelessly to make certain the fire district contributes whatever it can, acting in partnership, in achieving the fire chief’s goals.”

Davis is running because she believes the fire district lacks transparency and is disconnected from the public. She wants to increase public education efforts and enforcement of fire safety rules. 

“People need to feel empowered to manage their property responsibly,” she said. “It’s a shared duty for us all to support the health and well-being of our community.” 

The state auditor has faulted Fire District 5 for providing nonfire-related training to outside agencies. Gibson believes a recent wording change of the laws governing the spending of taxpayer dollars adopted by the Legislature was “favorable” toward the district’s public education mission. However, he anticipated the department will still discontinue some trainings. 

Davis said she is opposed to continuing any trainings that the state auditor argued were out of the district’s purview. 

Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue

Another contested race on the ballot is that between current Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Ayers and a former commissioner for Clark County Fire District 2, Mike Lohman.

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Both candidates have lived in the area for decades, with Lohman calling La Center home for more than 30 years and Ayers living in Woodland for more than 50, according to the Voters’ Pamphlet. 

Ayers wrote that he sees continued growth within the district’s service area as a challenge for the agency. But he feels he’s successfully managed increased demand so far with the construction of new fire stations and by beefing up staff during his tenure.

However, Lohman wrote he doesn’t believe staffing is the agency’s biggest problem and wants to press the district’s EMS provider on not meeting contracted response times.

Uncontested races

James R. Johnson is running unopposed for Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue commissioner Position 2, along with Elizabeth G. Goble for Clark County Fire District 10 commissioner and Gary D. Hoyt for Fire District 13 commissioner.

Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 15. The last day to register to vote by mail or online is Oct. 25. People can register to vote in person until Nov. 2.