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Scappoose, St. Helens fire districts might unite

Staff vacancies for Scappoose Rural Fire and Columbia River Fire and Rescue present opportunity

Two Columbia County fire districts could share a fire chief, division chiefs and administrative staff if board members give the concept final approval within the next three months.

Several board members and the fire chiefs from Columbia River Fire and Rescue and the Scappoose Fire District met Thursday, March 31, to discuss the possibility of combining management.

The arrangement allows for several staffing options, including having the districts share fire chiefs, division chiefs and administrative staff, or any combination of those employees, CRFR Fire Chief Jay Tappan said. Several aspects of the arrangement, including pay scales, reporting responsibilities and logistics of the implementation, are still being discussed.

“We need to continue looking at it and see if it’s going to benefit both communities,” Scappoose Fire Chief Mike Greisen said.

The CRFR board of directors first entertained the idea of a joint fire chief in January, shortly after Tappan announced he would be retiring this summer.

The full SFD board of directors will discuss the arrangement for the first time during the board’s regular meeting Thursday, April 14, Greisen said.

Both CRFR and SFD are experiencing upper-level management staffing shortages. CRFR employs only one division chief, but has the need for three. One position was vacated by Ron Youngberg who retired in February following a brief period of administrative leave and internal investigation that began in December. At the end of June, Tappan will retire, leaving the fire chief position vacant.

SFD employs only one division chief, with the opportunity to employ two. Division Chief Chris Lake retired in September, and the fire district has not filled the position. The district formerly employed three division chiefs, but had cut back to two last year in an effort to save the district money to employ more medical personnel, Greisen said.

The openings in both agencies makes the situation ideal for working together, Tappan said.

Both fire districts have been working together for three years under an intergovernmental agreement to share duty officers. Duty officers help oversee both fire districts during work shifts and assist on major fire calls when needed.

The agencies have been working well together, Tappan said, adding that he sees no reason the agencies wouldn’t be able to continue the relationship on a more involved basis.

The shared duties could also pose a financial benefit, potentially allowing increased employment in ambulance drivers and medical personnel, Greisen said.

“A lot of administration can be expensive. If we can share some duties, that would free up some funds to get more people on the road,” Greisen said.

No final decisions have been made on the issue. Both boards of directors are expected to make a decision in the next 90 days, Tappan and Greisen both confirmed.