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Editorial: Five steps for a Cascade Locks Fire fix

August 27, 2011

The Cascade Locks Fire Department is in disarray.

This statement is made not to assign blame but to call for a fix to the problem - for all concerned.

And "all concerned" includes not only Cascade Locks residents but people throughout the county and beyond, for CLFD is contractually obligated to provide ambulance and emergency services in a portion of Multnomah County as well as on Interstate 84 within city limits.

The fire department is hardly alone, and Cascade Locks is hardly an island. Perhaps the controversy surrounding the community's emergency services will underscore this small town's big role in the region, as a place more and more people pass through and come to visit.

What happens in Cascade Locks matters to the broader Gorge community. With that in mind, now is the time to start thinking of short- and long-term fixes, be they human, organizational or operational, at CLFD.

The first action that needs to be taken is for Cascade Locks City Council and all its appointed representatives to acknowledge the concerns of its volunteers and the other fire chiefs in the county, and immediately restore communications with the Fire Defense Board in order to restore the important mutual aid agreements. The agreements were terminated on Aug. 23 - after ample warning by the fire board. (Its 30-day deadline was stretched to 41 days.)

We recommend a five-part plan for taking a look at the big picture while also attending to the more immediate details needed to restore Cascade Locks Fire Department to its standing as a fully functional department providing for the health and safety of citizens and visitors:

In each of these five steps, which neutral parties participate, and where, is up for interpretation, but we believe these steps are needed to get the firehouse in order:

1. Get people talking again: Enlist a trained mediator to interview Cascade Locks Volunteers Assocation (CLEVSA) leaders, the city administration and seated council members, to formulate improved communication and cooperation.

2. Examine the vote of no-confidence: Appoint a third party, and give it the authority, to investigate and respond to the specific allegations made by CLEVSA in its vote of no-confidence on the acting chief. This is one of CLEVSA's recommendations from its Aug. 22 letter to council.

3. Repair the operations: Appoint a blue ribbon commission to interview all parties involved, and report to the city council, CLEVSA, Fire Defense Board, HRSO and County Board of Commissioners on short-term and long-term operational, equipment and personnel fixes for CLFD.

We should stress that the need for repairing the operations of the CLFD is a recent one; it was an efficient and professional department prior to the breakdown.

4. Review CLEVSA members' standing: Given recent resignations and requests for leave of absence, all parties involved need to know the members' legal standing.

All resignations or leaves of absence should be reconsidered in light of the No-Confidence investigation.

5. Secure the facility: There is evidence that the physical security of the fire hall has been jeopardized by recent actions by some volunteers. A panel of appropriate local agencies should review recent access, authorized or not, and then revise the coding and access system so the building, and its contents, is re-secured.

This plan acknowledges the primacy of the Cascade Locks municipality with regards to its tax-supported services, but we reiterate that the CLFD is connected to people and places outside of the city limits. One good thing to come of all this is that people are engaged - passionately - in the community. Of course, that can be good and bad.

Further, the pending recall of Mayor George Fischer and four members of the council must be factored into much of this set of recommendations. The people of Cascade Locks will have a vote on Sept. 20, and that means there is the possibility of a changing of the guard in Cascade Locks. This is a basic reality that must be anticipated. However, these recommendations are for the good of the community no matter who is holding office.

Cascade Locks, as part of a larger community, needs to accept that others have an interest in sharing their burden.

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