Six Cascade Locks fire volunteers responded to a house fire on Forest Lane Monday, the first structure fire in the city since former Fire Chief Jeff Pricher stepped down July 12.
Among those responding was assistant chief Jess Zerfing, who Mayor George Fischer said at Monday's City Council meeting is "the person in power" at the fire hall.
But as of Tuesday morning Zerfing is no longer a member of the department, according to an email sent by the fire department's three captains the night of Aug. 8 to Cascade Locks mayor and council, and received by West Side Fire Marshal Jim Trammell.
"This is to inform you of the operational structure change that has taken place in Cascade Locks Fire and EMS," states the email from Jessica Bennett, Megan Webb and Shawn Parrish, who appointed themselves captains Monday night at a volunteer association meeting in which Zerfing was asked to step down as assistant chief.
The email states, "We have appointed three officers to share the administrative and operational responsibilities until further notice."
Trammell said at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday that, "We have spoken to the now-managers of the fire department and we are going to have communications prior to Aug. 19 to try to work this out."
Aug. 19 is the end of the 30-day period when the fire departments' mutual aid agreement is scheduled to expire, based on a letter to the city from the fire chiefs on July 14. In the letter, the chiefs informed Cascade Locks that the mutual aid agreements would be nullified after Aug. 19 because the department has had no leader.
Bennett said Tuesday, "Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction and encourage city council that we can't have a volunteer chief; that it requires three people to do one person's job as volunteers; and encourage them to look at hiring someone back into that capacity so we can have a fire chief and the structure we need in the department."
Bennett said Trammell told the captains that the fire chiefs would need a letter of support from Cascade Locks' mayor and council.
Mayor George Fischer, who is recuperating from surgery, said he wanted to reserve comment until after he had read the captains' email.
"The city (of Cascade Locks) has never recognized Cascade Locks fire department," Trammell said. "There has been nothing said in any meeting that they support the fire department and recognize the chief fire officer.
"The last thing we want to do is not help Cascade Locks, because as firefighters it is our duty to protect the public," Trammell said. "But if Cascade Locks can't recognize the department and can't take care of its own fiduciary responsibilities, there is not much we can do."
The departure by Zerfing, a firefighter since he was a teenager, leaves the department without its most experienced member of the department.
Bennett said Zerfing was asked to stay on as a firefighter and EMT, but he chose not to.
Zerfing could not be reached for comment. (A message was left with a family member at 9:30 p.m. Monday but an 8 a.m. call Tuesday indicated the cell phone number had been disconnected.)
Zerfing's departure was happening at the same time as the council meeting where he was depicted as the one in charge.
Ongoing concerns over the emergency services department of the city dominated Monday's city council meeting, as the council enters its second month with neither a paid or appointed fire chief nor an acting or permanent city administrator.
The council postponed action on a contract for Eric Strahl, whom the council approved last month to be the new city administrator. (Interim administrator Rich Carson left in early July; he was hired after the resignation of former administrator Bernard Seeger in February. Former fire chief Jeff Pricher stepped down in early July over budget cutbacks to his department.)
In his mayoral report Monday, Fischer said he and volunteer firefighters were working together to keep the fire department operating and active, despite having no chief.
Fischer said at about 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 8 evening, that Assistant Chief Jess Zerfing "is the fire chief.
"He is the person in power" at the fire station, said Fischer, stating that he had met with Zerfing and volunteer association president Meghan Webb to discuss the operation of the department.
"We are working diligently to try to resolve this issue and make sure this issue is covered," Fischer said, adding that Zerfing was drafting a letter to emergency districts that have mutual aid agreements with Cascade Locks, stating that he is acting chief.
Council president Tiffany Pruit presided, since Fischer was home recuperating from surgery.
The city received a letter July 14 stating that the mutual aid agreements would be nullified after 30 days because Cascade Locks lacks a fire chief.
"It's time we take action to fill that post," said council member Lance Masters, also speaking via conference call. "We need a paramedic to keep our commitments to the county, Multnomah County, and the residents of Warrendale and Dodson." (Cascade Locks contracts with Multnomah County and Warrendale-Dodson to provide emergency services coverage.)
Council Member Eva Zerfing agreed, saying that the need is pressing for a paramedic because of that person's response expertise as well as knowledge of Medicare billing, stocking of medical supplies, and equipment maintenance.
"This is not a personal issue; this is a funding issue," council member Tom Cramblett said.
"We have to live with what we have," Pruit said.
Cramblett said that the emergency services budget had steadily lost money in the last five years and that the city does not have the resources to pay for a chief and paramedic.
He said that in light of the budget deficit, in order to restore a paid fire position, the city would have to ask citizens to