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Two paramedics laid off by new fire chief, positions to be replaced by firefighter-EMTs

 TUALATIN VALLEY FIREFIGHTERS UNION - Tualatin Valley Firefighters Union Secretary/Treasurer Scott Bethke, rear right, meets with the Scappoose shop steward and terminated paramedics.

Update: The Scappoose fire district's board of directors voted to rescind the terminations at their Jan. 9 meeting.

Fire Chief Dennis Hoke told two Scappoose paramedics he is terminating the underlying program that supports their employment at the Scappoose Rural Fire District during a bargaining session yesterday, Jan. 8.

The two paramedics will stay on until the end of February.

The move was announced in a Jan. 9 press release from the Tualatin Valley Firefighters Union, which represents firefighters and paramedics with the Scappoose Rural Fire District. The union and Hoke had been negotiating over "an issue regarding the start time of a paramedic unit in Scappoose," according to the press release. PMG PHOTO - Dennis Hoke

"This comes as a complete blindside to the Union," stated Scott Bethke, secretary and treasurer for the Tualatin Valley Firefighters Union, in the press release. "We pride ourselves on cooperation, collaboration, and a common goal to best serve the citizens and the community. This will without a doubt reduce the number of highly trained paramedics in the Scappoose Community."

Bethke continued, "The Fire Chief is terminating the employees and this program, simply because he doesn't want to work jointly with the union. This is especially concerning because this program was negotiated and implemented through a joint agreement by both parties in July of 2019."

Hoke plans to replace the paramedics with firefighters who will have less advanced paramedic training.

"We fully support the additional firefighters on the engine, but not at the expense of highly trained paramedics being removed from the ambulance, especially when 80% of the call responses are medical," Bethke stated.

Hoke said the district has seven employees who have the same paramedic training, plus firefighter training.

Scappoose currently has seven firefighter-paramedics, five firefighter-EMTs, and two paramedics. Hoke plans to hire three firefighter-EMTs to replace the two paramedics.

"Nobody likes laying anybody off but we're running a business and we have to make a business decision. We're increasing our service to the community and we're saving the taxpayers' dollars," Hoke said.

The fire district and union had been in negotiations over the unit's start time of 7 a.m. Hoke said he wanted to push the start time to 9 a.m. to keep paramedics on duty later, when more calls for service come in.

Hoke said the shift would have also saved the district on overtime costs.

A joint meeting of the SRFD and Columbia Fire and Rescue boards of directors scheduled for Thursday evening, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Columbia 911 Communications center located at 58611 McNulty Way, St. Helens, is expected to attract fire agency union officials and others in response to the terminations.

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