Estacada, Clackamas firefighters may end agreement
The Estacada Rural Fire District and Clackamas Fire could take a step back from an intergovernmental agreement forged two years ago, stemming from a simple disagreement on how best to perform a study of services.
During a meeting last month, the Estacada Fire Board of Directors agreed to conduct a study that would explore the services they share with Clackamas Fire and services that could potentially be added or reduced. Clackamas Fire's Board of Directors had requested a broad study that would also examined the possibility of merging the two districts. If the two fire districts were to integrate, it would require approval from both boards of directors, along with approval from voters in each district.
Because Estacada opted out of the full study, Clackamas Fire gave notice that it intends to withdraw next January from the existing intergovernmental agreement.
"They've told us that the withdrawal could change if our board decided they did want to do a full feasibility study, but our board has been very clear that they do not want to do that," said Estacada Fire Division Chief Richard Anderson.
The intergovernmental agreement between Estacada Fire and Clackamas Fire began two years ago. Through the partnership, the Estacada Rural Fire District receives training opportunities, command and control services and additional aid for fires and other incidents. Additionally, the agreement helps fund a position at the Eagle Creek Fire Station for 40 hours a week, and a battalion chief comes to Estacada from the Boring Fire Station on nights and weekends. The Estacada Rural Fire District pays $240,000 per year for these services.
If the IGA comes to an end, Estacada Fire would still recieve a certain amount of fire response services from Clackamas Fire through the mutual aid program.
The Estacada Fire Volunteer Association presented a letter to the board of directors in support of conducting a full feasibility study and continuing the intergovernmental agreement with Clackamas Fire.
"The IGA provides many important programs vital to the members of our association and community such as the joint training and shared rehab program, water tender program and firefighter training," the letter read. "These programs greatly benefit us as volunteers."
All members of the Estacada Rural Fire District, including chiefs and union staff, hold voting rights in the Estacada Fire Volunteer Association. When the votes for the study and IGA were further broken down, the volunteers favored them by two votes.
"There are some things Clackamas does that are absolutely wonderful, and that's why even with the volunteers it still passed," said Levi Jardine, a volunteer water tender operator who serves as president of the Estacada Fire Volunteer Association.
Volunteer firefighter Nick Wettlaufer voiced his support of conducting the full feasibility study.
"My stance is I'm not necessarily for or against a merger with Clackamas. However, what has gone down hasn't been talking about a merger. It's just the study," he said. "If the study came back and said it looked best (to merge), our board would have to agree to that, their board would have to agree on that and then it goes out to a vote of both publics. But by not being willing to have that merger be part of the study ... my best analogy is you're paying for a whole cow, but you're only taking half of it home. It doesn't make any sense. More knowledge, more information doesn't hurt. It's only good."
Wettlaufer appreciates the services available through the agreement with Clackamas — particularly opportunities for training.
"Clackamas has an entire division that does nothing but training and making sure (we're receiving) the cutting edge and leading edge of what has been seen to be the best tactics," he said. "Now, because they don't want to have a word in a study, we don't get that. That's a hugely costly word."
But Ken Oliver, a volunteer firefighter and water tender operator, is skeptical of working with Clackamas Fire.
"Clackamas is going to cancel the IGA because we're not doing the full study. That's kind of a bully way to do business," he said. "I don't think that's the right way to do business. We may need to merge in the future, but should it be with Clackamas Fire? Not in my opinion."
Estacada Fire Board of Directors president Matthew Silva cited a work session in March during which many citizens voiced a desire to keep local control as the reason the board voted for the limited feasibility study rather than the full one.
"The majority of the public that showed up gave us pretty clear direction that they wanted local control," said Silva.
He added that the Estacada Rural Fire District may need to consider a merger in the future "from an accountability standpoint, to see if that would be something that would make sense," but thought that the required timeline on the feasibility study with Clackamas was too rushed.
"The time frame was to have the decision by December, and I think we need a lot more public education and a lot more work sessions to really determine what is the direction that Estacada fire is going to go," he said.
Wettlaufer maintained that the information from the full study would be invaluable.
"The taxpayers don't deserve an emotional decision. They deserve a facts based decision, and you can't make a facts based decision without all of the facts," he said. "I like small town fire departments. I like that this is my station and we come down here and have an Easter egg hunt with the kids. I know people want to have their Estacada fire station. The study does not do away with anything. Nothing goes away, nothing changes. It just gives you all of the information to make a better decision."