Friday, July 22, 2011/lk
The Cascade Locks City Council needs to sign former Fire Chief Jeff Pricher to at least a three-month contract to maintain a decent level of fire service in the community.
Hopefully, during that period, the city will have hired an administrator who can help shape the fire department's future.
The city also needs to take up its volunteers request for a meeting between the council and volunteers.
Firefighters air out the hoses after an emergency; it looks like all concerned in Cascade Locks need earnestly air some things out.
When the city council, citing a lack of money, decided to eliminate the paid fire chief position, it left residents with an all-volunteer department. Pricher, who lost his job because of that decision, offered to head the city's volunteers. The city's Mayor George Fischer said Pricher did not apply to be assistant fire chief and therefore can't hold that position.
Meantime, the city's volunteer fire fighters decided not to respond to fire calls. The decision was partly based on safety, as members said they didn't want to be put at risk using equipment that wasn't being maintained on a regular basis. The volunteers have been ordered by the city, following consultation with the state State Fire Marshal, to respond to calls or risk losing their certification.
With the Cascade Locks volunteers idled, the nearest certified fire fighters are across the Columbia River in Stevenson. However, neither Skamania County agencies nor Oregon ones can respond to calls unless requested to by the nearest Oregon jurisdiction - Hood River.
Meantime, Jim Trammell, the city of Hood River fire defense chief, sent a letter this week to Fischer giving notice to terminate a mutual aid agreement with Cascade Locks. Trammell said he this was done because Cascade Locks has no fire chief nor volunteers who are currently willing to serve, and therefore Cascade Locks cannot reciprocate as required by the agreement.
As always, there are many things at play here - personality conflicts and power struggles, to name a few. Those aside, residents should feel safe with Pricher back in the role of chief, at least on an interim basis. Pricher is a proven professional, and while city officials have questioned his budgetary performance, his abilities as a fire chief have never been called into question.
Restoring, at least temporarily, some stability to the Cascade Locks department will help protect that city's residents, as well as avoid stretching the resources from neighboring districts or placing those responders at unnecessary risk.