Tuesday, February 26, 2013

EMSyes.org - Vote YES! Keep Our Ambulance!

The East County Paramedic Service, provided through the Camas Fire Department (CFD), is a regional emergency ambulance service in Clark County, Washington, formed by the cooperative partnerships of the voters of the Cities of Camas and Washougal, and the rural communities of Fern Prairie, Mt. Livingston, Sunnyside, Mt, Norway, Orchard Hills and Bear Prairie within the service area of East County Fire & Rescue.

The service was established in 1979, when voters approved the first tax levy to implement community-based paramedic service. The CFD, with an established, decades-long history of providing Basic Life Support (BLS) ambulance service to the area, became the administrator of the new paramedic service.

This ambulance service is funded by an EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Levy process that requires periodic renewal, at least every six years. When the EMS levy appears on your ballot, it is important to realize that it is not a new tax, but a continuation of an existing voter-approved tax that is necessary to continue providing your paramedic ambulance service.

  • The current EMS levy in Camas is 46¢ per $1,000 of assessed valuation (equal to $138 per year if you own a $300,000 home).  It was increased by 11¢ in 2012 with voter approval, for only the second time since its inception in 1979, due to rising costs.
  • The current EMS levy in East County Fire & Rescue is 35¢ per $1,000 of assessed valuation (equal to $105 per year if you own a $300,000 home.  ECFR voters declined to renew the levy in 2006, and would have lost ambulance service had the levy not been restored by the voters in 2008.
  • The current EMS levy in Washougal is 50¢ per $1,000 of assessed valuation (equal to $180 per year if you own a $300,000 home.  While higher than the Camas and ECFR levies, a portion of the funds have been earmarked since 2004 with voter approval specifically to fund two Firefighter/EMT positions in the Washougal Fire Department.
These voter-approved affordable EMS levies provide for the continuation of what has been recognized as one of the Top 5 EMS service providers in the United States and Canada.

Clark County collects the approved EMS Levy funds through your annual property taxes, and the levy funds are then passed to the CFD in their role as administrator of the ambulance service. State law requires that EMS levy funds are accounted for independently of the CFD's general budget, and can only be used for expenses directly related to regional EMS. At no point are EMS levy funds and City of Camas funds co-mingled.

EMS levy funds are utilized to hire and train paramedics, to purchase and maintain a fleet of four ambulances, to provide EMS training to all other fire and EMS responders serving in the ambulance service area, and to replenish EMS equipment for the other fire districts in the ambulance service area.

From time to time, when the EMS levy renewal is required, we hope you will remember the times that your firefighters, first responders, and paramedics promptly came to the aid of you, your family or your friends and loved ones, a service that would not be possible without the continued cooperative support of the communities served.

Ensure the reliable continuation of our
community-based ambulance service.

Vote YES on EMS

The lives of your family, friends and neighbors
in East County may depend on it.

NEWS: Washougal-Camas fire merger backed

Panel urges cities to make arrangement permanent

By Tyler Graf
Columbian staff writer

A committee of Camas and Washougal leaders Tuesday night recommended forging ahead with a long-term partnership between the cities’ fire departments.

The action comes more than two years after the departments temporarily merged.

But before the cities green-light an interlocal agreement, which will lay the groundwork for a consolidation of fire services, both councils will have to hash out how to structure it.

A joint meeting between the two city councils will likely be scheduled for late March or early April, Camas City Administrator Nina Regor said.

Fine-tuning the details of the agreement is expected to take more time.

In comments to the committee, Regor said it might be necessary to extend the cities’ temporary partnership, which is set to sunset at the end of the year.

“Coming up with a new model and its terms may not be possible by the deadline,” Regor told the committee.

Camas and Washougal have shared firefighters, paramedics, captains and battalion chiefs on a trial basis since 2011. Merging services is considered a way to save money for the departments.

Last year, the cities extended the temporary merger through the end of 2013, a move that was intended to provide enough time for a newly formed committee to study the future of the fire departments.

For firefighters, a long-term consolidation can’t come soon enough. They’ve been working without a contract since Jan. 4.

“We understand the constraints and the process,” union President Kevin Bergstrom said. “But the concern is we’ve been here this long; we’ve proven (consolidation) works, so do we need to analyze it to death, so to speak?”

The exploratory committee that made Tuesday’s recommendation has worked for the past year to investigate three long-term options for combining fire and EMS services, including such possibilities as merging them permanently, keeping them separate or creating a new regional fire authority.

With Tuesday’s recommendation, the committee also decided to cease looking into creating a regional fire authority, which would require voter approval and result in the creation of a new independent board.

© 2013 Columbian Publishing Company


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NEWS: Future of fire department trial merger will be decided soon

Consultant’s report says consolidation saves money

By Heather Acheson

Since July 2011, the Camas and Washougal fire departments have been taking part in a functional consolidation as a way to pinpoint financial and process efficiencies and improve service levels.

That effort’s long-term future will likely be decided soon, as elected officials consider information provided in a recently released consultant’s report.

“I was impressed with the report in the way it pointed toward the fact that the work we’ve done together has yielded some substantial positive results that were surprising to [consultant Paul Lewis] and frankly surprising to me,” said Camas City Councilman Steve Hogan. “There are some interesting options, but I think it really stated or proved that the cooperation between all parties was impressive.”

The three options on the table include having the cities continue on the current path toward a complete functional consolidation; pursue the formation of a regional fire authority taxing district that must be authorized by a citizen vote; or go back to operating as independent fire departments with a joint ambulance transport agreement.

The report prepared by Lewis indicated that while the functional consolidation method reflects the lowest overall cost, the costs to revenues and expenditures associated with each of the structures are comparable.

“Mr. Lewis recommended that both departments continue their present consolidation for the foreseeable future since the effort was saving the most amount of money possible while increasing levels of service,” Chief Nick Swinhart said in a statement. “He further recommended that the often discussed regional fire authority option be delayed, but that it could remain as an option in the future.”

A Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee, made up of elected officials from both cities, has been meeting regularly since May 2012 to hash out the issue.

The consultant’s report and possible recommended path forward is expected to be discussed at the next RFA Committee meeting set for Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 5:30 p.m., at a location to be determined.

“Coming out of that [meeting] will be the courses of action or recommendation to Council,” explained Camas City Councilman Greg Anderson, a member of the RFA Committee.

Ultimately, the city councils in Camas and Washougal will decide which of the three options will be pursued. The current Camas-Washougal trial merger agreement expires at the end of this year.

The $5,600 cost to hire Lewis was split between the two cities, and was approved with a contract in November 2012.

© 2013 Columbian Publishing Company


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

NEWS: Budget projections are discussed at annual planning conference

By Dawn Feldhaus
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The City of Washougal is expected to face economic challenges, based on recent projections.

During the City Council’s annual planning conference Jan. 25 and 26, Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg and City Administrator David Scott talked about the long term financial status of the city’s general fund.

With the city’s requirement that the annual budget include a minimum reserve equal to 16 percent of one year’s operating expenses, options to make sure the general fund is balanced include slowing the rate of the growth of expenditures and/or increasing the rate of growth of revenues.

With a 16 percent minimum reserve of $1.8 million this year, additional reserves are listed at $887,371. In 2014, the 16 percent is expected to equal $1.78 million, with additional reserves at $603,176.

The minimum reserve is in danger of going below 16 percent in 2015 and being depleted in 2017.

“The impact of the structural deficit is going in the red, using the assumptions in the model,” City Administrator David Scott said. “Of course we cannot go into the red, we have to resolve it. The purpose of the forecast is to illustrate the effect of the structural deficit.”

The hypothetical estimated need for a three-day emergency is $100,000.

Slowing the rate of expenditure growth could involve a review of city programs and levels of service. The planning conference included a review of services that are mandatory, essential or discretionary.

A small piece of the projected deficits is the 2012 expiration of a levy lid lift for emergency medical services.

“The lid lift, as it was at 10 cents per $1,000 assessed value, is estimated to produce a total of $120,000 annually,” Scott said. “The expiration of the lift doesn’t make its full impact until half way though 2014. Some savings were generated from the prior lift that we are using this year and part of 2014 until it is gone.”
The city did not seek renewal of the levy lid lift through an election in 2012.

Scott said the city will continue to wait, because there is currently no capacity to ask for a levy lid lift.

“We are currently capped at the maximum property tax rate of $3.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation,” he said. “This happened because of the decline in assessed valuation we have experienced over the last several years.

“When assessed values increase over the next year or so, our rate will decrease and there may be room to ask the community if a renewal of the lid lift is supported to maintain EMS services,” Scott added.
© 2013 Columbian Publishing Company


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NEWS: Consultant recommends merger for Washougal, Camas fire departments

By Tyler Graf
Columbian staff writer

Of the three options available, implementing a long-term partnership between the Washougal and Camas fire departments would likely save the cities money, according to a consultant’s report released Tuesday night.

But as the cities continue to wrestle with the nearly two-year-long question of whether to consolidate fire and EMS services permanently, the consultant tasked with reviewing what’s next for the fire departments said no option is a clear winner.

The regional fire authority committee, composed of members of both city councils, will soon recommend whether to combine the fire departments, create a new autonomous taxing district to oversee fire services or keep the departments separate.

Paul Lewis, the cities’ consultant, said none of the three options would generate “significant” savings. However, a long-term consolidation of the departments would be slightly less expensive, in part because the cities have been operating under a joint fire department for more than a year.

Camas and Washougal implemented a temporary fire merger during the summer of 2011 as a way to contend with EMS shortfalls caused by declining property tax revenues.

Last year, they chose to extend the partnership through Dec. 31 to provide time for the regional fire authority committee to evaluate the pros and cons of creating a fire authority, an option that would require voter approval and the creation of a new taxing district with an independent board.

“You have a series of short-term funding decisions you’re going to have to make over the next two years,” Lewis told committee members during a Tuesday night presentation of his findings.

Those decisions will center on how to restructure and fund a new-look fire department. Fire chiefs for the cities say they’ve saved money since the short-term merger began.

Members of the fire authority say they’re cautious about the idea of creating a regional fire authority, however.

“I don’t think we have anything to sell the public to compel them to vote for a new public entity that would have its own autonomy,” said committee member Don Chaney, a Camas city councilor.

Nick Swinhart, fire chief for the Washougal-Camas Fire Department, pointed to Snohomish County, where talks to combine departments under a regional fire authority have hit a snag because of how complicated it would be to implement.

Consolidation isn’t a perfect option either, officials cautioned. Both cities would have to coordinate levies to pay for fire services, something that could be achieved through an intergovernmental agreement.

Steve Hogan, a committee member and Camas city councilor, said the cities would have to work together to ensure they implemented a plan smoothly.

He said he didn’t want it to be like “having a bad dance partner, with each person doing the wrong dance steps.”

Committee members did not make a decision at Tuesday night’s meeting.

They said they need more time to digest the report’s findings. The committee could make a decision at its next meeting in February.

© 2013 Columbian Publishing Company


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NEWS: Camas, Washougal to get report on fire merger plans

Cities' options will include joining departments permanently

By Tyler Graf
Columbian staff writer

A long-in-the-works plan to permanently merge the Washougal and Camas fire departments will take a step forward later in the month with the release of a financial assessment that will look at the top three options the cities could take to restructure fire protection.

Consultant Paul Lewis will present his findings at a Jan. 29 special meeting of the regional fire authority committee. His report will be the next major step in a process dating back to 2010.

"This is pretty substantial," said Nick Swinhart, fire chief for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department. "It will likely impact which direction we go in."

He said a financial feasibility report will lay the groundwork for a decision on whether to merge the departments in the coming months, and if so, how to do that.

The three options the report will look are permanently merging the fire departments, creating a regional fire authority or not combining services at all.

For more than a year, the two fire departments have been operating as one.

Last year, the cities agreed to extend a six-month temporary merger through Dec. 31, 2013. Washougal and Camas will have until then to choose which plan they'd like to implement, or they could agree on another extension.

The regional fire authority committee has evaluated the pros and cons of creating a fire authority, which would create a taxing district independent of the cities.

City leaders say they want to look at every option before deciding.

Mayors weigh in

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said he was skeptical of some of the options on the table.

"No one has explained to me why (a regional fire authority) is the most wonderful thing in the world," he said.

A regional fire authority would ultimately need voter approval to be established. It would have the ability to levy taxes as a separate entity and city employees working for the fire department would become district employees.

Guard said he's leaning toward the option of keeping the departments merged.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins echoed those sentiments but said he's willing to keep an open mind about what's presented in Lewis' report.

He said he'd be willing to pursue whichever option indicates the best savings for the fire department.

"I'm not excited about going back to business as usual," Higgins said.

Since going into effect, the temporary merger has saved both cities money.

At a Washougal City Council meeting last February, Ron Schumacher, division chief, said Washougal had seen overtime savings of $13,970 over four months.

The merger has doubled manpower in Washougal and provided a paramedic unit there, Swinhart said. It has also stabilized EMS funds in Camas, he said.

© 2013 Columbian Publishing Company


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NEWS: Local off-duty firefighter helps save a life while on vacation at Disneyland

Ben Porter promotes importance of CPR training
By Dawn Feldhaus

Ben Porter
A Camas-Washougal firefighter was recently one of several individuals who helped save a man’s life near Disneyland.

Ben Porter, 23, was on vacation with his wife and several of her family members when the incident occurred Aug. 18, around 2:30 p.m., at “Downtown Disney” — a shopping area outside the theme park on the way to the Disneyland Hotel.

Porter said he and his wife were returning to the hotel after lunch, because he had a headache and needed a nap. He noticed a man who appeared to be convulsing being lowered to the ground by a police officer and another individual.

Porter, who is also an EMT and IV technician, began cardiopulmonary resuscitation when he realized the man was not breathing and had no pulse, and the officer called for assistance. While Porter was doing compressions, a Disneyland nurse arrived with medical kits and an automated external defibrillator.

The officer took over CPR, and Porter hooked up the AED.

“An off-duty paramedic — I’m not sure where he is from — showed up and took over compressions,” Porter said. “We delivered one shock and continued CPR for a couple more minutes. The AED analyzed again, and no shock was advised. By that time, the man had a pulse of his own and the fire department and ambulance were arriving.

“All I did was recognize the need for CPR and initiated it,” he added. “There was plenty of help that showed up within the first couple of minutes, and the man is alive because of everyone who helped out — including the entire EMS system.”

After the incident, Porter and his wife continued to the hotel to rest for a while. They left the next day.

“The man’s family has not contacted me,” Porter said. “I was not asked to give any of my information by anyone, so I continued about my business.”

The patient had a complete recovery and was discharged from the hospital 24 hours after he was transported there.

“I’ve assisted with minor problems in the past but nothing to this magnitude while off duty,” Porter said. “This was the first critical medical patient I have run into while off duty.

“Anyone who knows how to do CPR could have done exactly what I did,” he added. “This event made me realize even more the importance of everyday people knowing how to do CPR, in order to provide individuals who suffer from incidents like this with the best possible outcome they could have. Each minute that goes by without CPR causes irreversible tissue damage. This man is not alive because I am a firefighter, but because I knew CPR, recognized the need for it and was willing to provide it.”

Cliff Free, division chief of EMS for the C-W Fire Department, is proud of Porter.

“This is a perfect testament to who he is as a person,” Free said. “And who he is as a person spills over into his work, his play and his commitment to whatever community he finds himself in.”

Porter is a former firefighter with East County Fire & Rescue and Clark County Fire District 6.

ECFR Chief Scott Koehler said Porter is “a great person.”

“It is no surprise that he helped this man,” Koehler said. “He has committed himself to a profession of helping others — often on their worst day. Ben’s dedication to humanity was evident that day, and his training certainly paid off.”

For information about CPR classes, contact the C-W Fire Department at 834-2262 or 835-2611 or ECFR at 834-4908.

© 2012 Columbian Publishing Company