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Fire, ambulance mergers test area agencies

Hood River, Cascade Locks enter into agreement to consolidate services and personnel

A new merger could change the way that fire protection services are delivered to Hood River County residents.

The cities of Cascade Locks and Hood River have signed off on a trial agreement that will consolidate both personnel and equipment. The one-year contract is expected to be the “testing ground” for future consolidations.

“We see this merger as trial period of economies of scale, it brings two communities together to provide better service for less money in the long run,” said Robert Willoughby, Cascade Locks city manager.

Under the new contract, Cascade Locks will pay the Hood River Fire Department $63,000 per year for full-time paramedic coverage. In addition, volunteers from the Cascade Locks fire/ambulance services will receive advanced training opportunities. Fees collected from ambulance runs will also be collected by Hood River, who will assume administrative duties. In return, Cascade Locks will provide some high-tech equipment, such as an hydraulic extrication tool, and train the Hood River firefighters how to use these devices.

“This gives us the opportunity to present our program to the rest of the county and show what we can do when we all work together,” said Hood River Fire Chief Greg Hoeger.

He is now preparing for the July 1 start-up date of the merger. Last week, he tested 14 candidates for the three new paramedic positions. These individuals will rotate shifts in Cascade Locks and Hoeger is arranging for them to be housed in a modular unit behind the existing fire station.

Willoughby said Cascade Locks has wanted to employ a full-time fire/medical expert for the past 10 years, but has been unable to afford the price of wages and benefits. In addition, he said because many residents now commute out of town for employment, it was becoming increasingly difficult to rally enough volunteers for daytime emergencies. He said the agreement between the two cities will resolve both of those challenges.

“All of their support services and years of experience are now available to us and that will better serve our community,” Willoughby said.

He said the City of Cascade Locks, like most Oregon public agencies, is undergoing budget challenges that make it increasingly difficult to fund the fire/ambulance programs. Both he and Hoeger believe that tough economic times can be overcome if all area fire districts look at merging to streamline operations.

“If this works, then I think the entire county needs to take a serious look at doing this,” Willoughby said. “You lose some of your local control but the alternative is to pay more money so it’s a trade off.”

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