Revenue constraints resulting in slower response times are making Clark County Fire and Rescue look at options to pick staff numbers back up with a ballot measure raising the fire levy likely in August, a press release from the department stated.
CCF&R had 11 fewer firefighters in 2016 as a result of lost revenue after losing a bid for a service contract with Battle Ground, the release stated, leading to $2.4 million less in funding for that year.
The lack of firefighters meant that the district’s Station 22, also known as the Charter Oak station, was no longer staffed. The most notable effect of the drop in staffing was slower response times, the release stated.
As a whole, response times went up on average 28 seconds from 2015 to 2016, according to CCF&R information. CCF&R Chief John Nohr stressed that this average doesn’t necessarily highlight some of the biggest jumps, including a full minute increase in response time for the station at Dollar’s Corner — almost 20 percent longer.
“If somebody is not breathing, that’s a long wait; if something is on fire, that’s a long wait,” Nohr remarked. In incidences such as the CCF&R Charter Oak station, response times are approaching 9 minutes, he said.
With the revenue shortfall the district is focusing on keeping emergency personnel responding to emergency calls, the release stated, meaning that savings can’t be generated to replace old equipment or devise facility improvements.
“I can’t choose saving for a new fire engine over laying off more personnel,” Nohr was quoted in the release. “We need every person we have to respond to emergency calls.”
That inability to fund improvements could lead to impacts on the department’s insurance rating with the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau, affecting the amount property owners pay in fire insurance premiums according to the release.
In an effort to get staffing levels back to where they ought to be, CCF&R is entertaining doing a fire levy lid lift to be put before fire district voters in August to increase the amount the district collects. The proposed lift would be nine cents per $1,000 of assessed value, going from the current $1.41 per $1,000 rate to the maximum of $1.50 per $1,000.
Nohr said the levy rate was at $1.50 for a period of time but the rate dropped to $1.41 taxable this year due to increasing assessed valuations on properties and the state-mandated limit of a 1 percent increase in levies collected per year. Should a lid lift not be voted, the rate would further decrease to somewhere between 1.29 to 1.32 per $1,000 as per CCF&R projections, he added.
Seven to nine new firefighters would be hired with the increased funding due to the lid lift, allowing for the Charter Oak station to return to being staffed with a minimum of two firefighters around the clock, the release explained.
Regarding reopening a station like Charter Oak, Nohr explained the benefits would ripple out to those in service “beats” of other stations, as currently unmanned stations require those from manned stations to head over when a call falls within the unmanned station’s jurisdiction.
“Just adding one extra unit in the system really reduces the pull on all the other units,” Nohr said.
Some of the increased revenue would also go to fund apparatus replacement to keep the insurance rating for the district where it is, the release stated.
Nohr said that the district’s board of commissioners took his recommendation to hold at least two open houses for the public. The events are tentatively scheduled for March 21 at the Charter Oak station (29800 NE 112th Ave., Battle Ground) and April 23 at the administrative station (911 N 65th Ave., Ridgefield).
“I think, though, that most people, when presented the information about response times and about the cost and where the money would be spent, I think people would be in support of it,” Nohr said.