Based on the overwhelming support shown by our community for Camas-Washougal Fire Department, the City of Camas would like to explain the procedures, principles, and background that were applied to the Department’s response of a Feb. 14, 2018, residential fire.
First and foremost, we would like to express how very proud we are of the hard work performed by all our emergency responders every day. They are a tremendous part of our community.
It is important to emphasize that no laws have been broken and no disciplinary action was or is going to be taken against the responders of the February 14 event, about which you can read more below.
We continue to welcome a conversation with both the East Clark Professional Fire Fighters as well as our Camas community. Residents and responders alike are always invited to City Council workshops and meetings, to email their elected officials, and to send constructive input to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments posted to social media cannot be accepted into public record.
Last month, at approximately 2:23 p.m. on February 14, one engine with a two-person team from CWFD was dispatched to the area of NW 27th Ave. in Camas after a residential fire system on the premises had been activated.
A “residential fire system” is monitored by a third-party alarm company, such as ADT.
Upon arrival, the firefighters discovered a house on fire. They then radioed for assistance, and made the decision to enter the garage, where a man could be heard. Smoke was filling the garage from a small fire believed to have started in the kitchen. The man and his dogs were successfully transported out of the garage. Vancouver Fire Department (VFD) and East County Fire and Rescue (ECFR) arrived, and the man was transferred by ambulance to the hospital for evaluation.
Support is being expressed for the two fine firefighters who entered the building, focused only on evacuating the residents. Their bravery is indisputable, and we sincerely commend their actions.
What is now being discussed by many is the practice of a two-person response to residential fire system notifications.
Residential Fire System Notifications
Unknown to many, across the country, as in the Camas-Washougal area, a high percentage of notifications initiated by residential fire systems are false. Conversely, a high percentage of notifications initiated by a 911 call, are real. For perspective, in 30 years, the February 14 fire is the only actual fire that CWFD Chief Nick Swinhart knows to have been communicated through a residential fire system.
For these reasons, in instances where a residential fire system triggers a smoke alarm, the procedure has been to dispatch one engine staffed with a two-person team. This response method, which is common nationwide in cities of Camas’ size and makeup, has been adequate and free from danger. It is within all state and federal laws. Unfortunately, this point is being incorrectly conveyed on social media.
In contrast, in instances where a 911 call is made – which are the majority of events in Camas and Washougal – a larger team of at least 8-12 personnel respond. When a station is staffed with only two people (due to vacations, sick leave, etc.), teams from other CWFD stations, as well as teams from VFD and ECFR, are also notified and respond to the 911 call.
As part its biannual department review process, currently underway, the February 14 event will be considered when evaluating staffing needs for the 2019-2020 budget.
Ø Please note, recommendations made by other entities on the number of personnel required to respond to different types of events are suggestions, not law; their recommendation does not take into account factors such as a community’s emergency response needs and background, financial feasibility, and voter support for enacting the suggested practices. We regret the media’s inaccurate coverage of this point.
Ø Although another photo has been circulated, an accurate photo of the February 14 event can be seen at http://www.camaspostrecord.com/news/2018/feb/16/firefighters-rescue-camas-man-dogs-from-valentines-day-fire/
Ø We are saddened to have learned that the person in the event later passed away due to prior health conditions. His wife relayed on social media and directly to the fire marshal that the firefighters’ response did not play a role in his death; his passing was not preventable.
The practices in place are based in part on a history of very few fires in the community overall. Over the last five years, the Department averaged around 5,000 emergency calls. Of those, over approximately 80% of the calls required medical response; less than approximately 20% of the calls required fire response.
As a whole, the response times of CWFD are faster than both the regional and national average.
In keeping with community needs, in February 2018, Camas voters passed a replacement emergency medical services (EMS) levy to support emergency medical response with 72.59% approval.
As of March 12, 2018, the City is in the middle of its biannual service analysis to assist in developing the 2019-2020 budget. The status of all department operations, including the fire department, are presented by staff during City Council sessions. Needs are then prioritized and funded to the level that is financially feasible.
As these are not easy decisions, the City regularly reaches out to the community for input.
For instance, in 2017, as part of its 2018-19 Strategic Plan, a community survey was conducted by a third party. The survey results reflect Camas citizens’ top three priorities as1) maintenance of city streets, 2) quality of city parks/trails/open space, and 3) effectiveness of economic development efforts, out of 14 possible areas.
Fire, emergency medical & ambulance services, along with Library services, received the highest approval rating (89%) of all service categories.
In the area of Public Safety, the survey's findings are as follows: The highest levels of satisfaction with public safety services, based upon the combined percentage of "very satisfied" and "satisfied" responses among residents who had an opinion, were: the quality of local fire protection and rescue services (88%), how quickly fire and rescue personnel respond to emergencies (86%), and how quickly ambulance personnel respond emergencies (81%(. The aspect of public safety services that respondents were least satisfied with was parking enforcement services (57%). The three public safety services respondents indicated should receive the most emphasis over the next two years were the City's overall efforts to prevent crime, the visibility of police in the community, and the enforcement of local traffic laws.
The survey was sent to 3000 Camas households. A minimum of 400 completed surveys were required to statistically validate the results. Seven hundred and five completed surveys were returned. The survey will take place every two years in order to track areas for improvement.
Results can be found here:
City services are covered through a variety of means, included property taxes and voter-approved levies. Regarding property taxes, for many years (including during the recession), residents paid $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value, broken down as follows: $1.60 for general government, $1.50 for fire and $0.50 for library. With the addition of new homes, the rate has decline over time, and this year, $2.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value is being gathered; the breakdown of costs reflects the same ratio of dollars to services as before.
The City also has one voter-approved levy: the replacement EMS levy just passed in February. Its rate is $0.46 per $1,000 of assessed property value, starting in 2019.
Some services receive additional monies from outside agencies; those additional monies translate into additional resources for residents. The monies, however, are contingent upon voter approval of levies and would be withdrawn without levy support.
The State allows a 1% increase of the total taxes gathered in the previous calendar year. It is a restriction that disallows the City from keeping pace with growth in some areas. Each year, the combination of property taxes and voter-approved levies has allowed the City to fund its current level of services as well as inflation and labor costs; however, it has not allowed the City to provide long-term funding for new personnel desired, including those for fire, road crews, and parks maintenance staff.
For a sense of how money is received and dispersed, please see the City budget, which covers two years: https://www.cityofcamas.us/images/DOCS/FINANCE/REPORTS/2017BiennialBudget.pdf
Instituting a 3-person team for notifications triggered by residential fire alarm systems would require hiring a minimum of 15 additional firefighters to cover three stations, 24/7, at the estimated cost of at least $1.5 million per year, added to the department’s current $9.5 million annual budget. About 60% of that 1.5 would have to be covered by City of Camas, with the other 40% being covered by the City of Washougal.
Additional personnel and services would need to be financially covered though one or more of the mechanisms listed below.
When additional personnel or services are desired by Camas residents, your elected City Council members explore the options and can choose to secure funding by:
- Cutting existing services in order to free up revenue; and/or
- Implementing utility taxes to raise additional revenues.
These options do not require voter approval.
Instead or in addition to those steps, residents would need to:
- Vote to approve implementing a sales tax; and/or
- Vote to raise the levy lid to return the rate of $3.60, and then pay more per assessed
The second option would need to be re-voted on in regular election cycles every 3 to 6 years; should it not receive voter-approval in the future, previously approved personnel or services would be in jeopardy.
In the case of new funding for CWFD, the Washougal City Council and/or Washougal residents would also need to make choices.
Due to an unidentified and indeterminate funding source, the financial impact to each Camas resident of adding personnel and services is unknown.
Summing up the many factors that play a part in funding, safeguarding, and sustaining, the many wonderful services and personnel in the City of Camas is not easy. We hope to have shed light on a few areas you might not have considered, while remaining constantly open to your input.
Again, we continue to welcome a conversation with both the East Clark Professional Fire Fighters as well as our Camas community. Residents and responders alike are always invited to City Council workshops and meetings, to email their elected officials, and to send constructive input to email@example.com. (Comment through social media cannot be regarded as public record.)