Fire districts aim for fully-staffed fairgrounds station this summer


Fire Station 151 at the Clark County Fairgrounds will have round-the-clock crews if plans for the two districts who jointly oversee the station go into effect this year.

The station, housed at 505 NW 179th St. in Ridgefield, could see a full three shifts at the location starting in July, chiefs for Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue (CCFR) and Clark County Fire District 6 (FD6) said. Station 151 currently has one three-person crew from CCFR that works one shift of 48 hours on and 96 hours off, covering the station one third of the time, Chief John Nohr said.

On March 8, CCFR held a “push-in” ceremony for a new fire engine at the station. Engine 151 replaces a 2009 engine which will now serve as the district’s first-in-line reserve apparatus, Nohr said.

With the new engine, all of CCFR’s frontline fleet is less than two years old, he said.

Station 151 began having a crew one third of the time on June 5 of last year, Nohr said. Since then, the station’s crew has responded to calls 256 times.

The staffing increase was the first time the station housed crews since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, the station was only staffed by FD6 volunteers about 20% of the time, FD6 Chief Kristan Maurer said last year.

CCFR is on a hiring spree this year and will bring on dozens of firefighters. Some of them have come from other districts, while others are new to the job. A batch of seven lateral firefighters started working March 11, Nohr said, though they will be working at stations other than Station 151. Nohr said the district keeps a consistent crew at that station who have familiarity of the area, as often they report to mutual aid calls for FD6.

Nohr said his district will hire another 15 firefighters in July with hopes to add an additional shift at Station 151. Around that time, FD6 will add a third crew at the station under current plans, Maurer said. She said the district’s board of commissioners will have a workshop about staffing Station 151 next month.

Any staffing decisions will have to be worked out between the two districts given an operational agreement they have, Maurer said.

“We have to get back together to meet and agree what the impacts are to both areas and how we go about making sure that we meet each other’s needs as well as meet the needs of the citizens,” Nohr said.

Recruiting and training firefighters, especially entry-level hires, is a time consuming process, Nohr said. Even the lateral hires who hit the streets recently, he noted, began the hiring process last August.

Nohr said the candidate pool is the smallest it has been in decades. He isn’t exactly sure why, though he said the suspension of certification training programs needed for hires due to the COVID-19 pandemic may be one of the reasons.

Maurer said FD6 is facing similar challenges.

“We need that paramedic certification, and when the schools closed down, it’s just playing catchup to get those people certified so that they can test,” Maurer said.

The presence of CCFR staffing at the station has “definitely relieved pressure” on FD6’s other stations, Maurer said. Prior to the staffing, her district often would take calls which are now being served by the Station 151 crew in CCFR territory.

“That’s really one of the driving factors when chief Nohr and I started working on this, was to create that balance between the two districts,” Maurer said.

Nohr said a staffed Station 151 helps decrease response times for residences in the area.

“It’s getting the right resource there in the right amount of time, whether it be for cardiac chest pain, respiratory distress or a building on fire,” Nohr said. “Any time that you can get your resources to an incident faster, we’re able to stop damage to a building or potentially damage to a person.”

The station currently has both an engine and a water tender apparatus. For residents of both CCFR and FD6, Nohr said, the water tender helps lower fire insurance rates. When the station is fully staffed, it will further impact those rates to save property owners on their bill.

“Not only is it safer for them if their building is on fire or if they’re having a medical emergency, it’s going to save them some money in the long run,” Nohr said.