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Mutual aid agreements terminated by local fire depts, Cascade Locks threatens legal action

August 27, 2011

The strained Cascade Locks fire department issue is clearer, the stances much tougher.

Fire and emergency services mutual aid agreements with Cascade Locks were terminated on Aug. 23 by the Hood River County Fire Defense Board. The action has been pending since July 12 and formally could have taken place Aug. 19.

The city was notified of the termination by email on Aug. 23 and by letter on Aug. 24.

In response to the mutual aid termination, the City of Cascade Locks on Friday issued a statement saying it could take legal action against its neighboring fire districts.

"We really hope we can get this resolved soon," Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells said.

"We all want to provide services down there but we can't provide services without knowing they can't provide services themselves," Wells said.

Cascade Locks Mayor Fischer charged the board has made "unconstructive threats for over a month while it has struggled without a city administrator." (Paul Koch comes on board Monday as interim administrator.)

"We have made every effort to help them," said Jim Trammell, president of the Fire Defense Board.

Meanwhile, Wells announced that a separate mutual aid agreement regarding amublance service, has also been terminated effective Aug. 23. Cascade Locks currently has no paramedic, a requirement for providing ambulance service, meaning Cascade Locks is currently unable to maintain mutual aid with Hood River, Westside and Parkdale ambulance.

Cascade Locks has received resignations or requests for leave of absence from eight of its 14 current volunteers, who took a vote of no confidence in acting fire chief Jess Zerfing, appointed Aug. 15 as fire chief by City Council.

But Mayor George Fischer took a firm stance in Friday's press release:

"Cascade Locks can and will seek to hold its Hood River County Mutual Aid partners liable to the fullest extent of the law in the event of an incident to which these partners do not respond and injury to people and or property results."

Fischer and other city officials declined to comment other than to issue the Aug. 25 press release.

On Aug. 23 through 25 Fischer, Council President Tiffany Woosley and Zerfing did not respond to a total of more than 15 phone calls to their private lines and city numbers.

In the release, Fischer states that "at no time has the Hood River county Defense Chiefs group sought to assist Cascade Locks in resolving the issues between the City and the volunteers."

"Instead, the Hood River County Defense Group has chosen to meet only with the Volunteers and communicate the Volunteers' demands to the City, threatening to revoke the Mutual Aid agreement if the City does not do as the Defense Group/Volunteers demand."

Trammel and other fire board members debunked both statements.

"The Hood River County Fire Chiefs stand by the record of communications over the past three months and the mutual aid agreement is very specific in its terms," Trammell said Friday.

The chiefs met with Zerfing on Aug. 20 (see sidebar at right).

The city's press release reads, in part

"Today, August 25, 2011, the City of Cascade Locks was notified that its Hood River County Defense Mutual Aid fire and emergency response partners in Hood River County unilaterally decided to terminate the Mutual Aid Agreement between Cascade Locks and five Hood River County Fire & EMS department and districts.

Fischer said that "next week, the Mayor of Cascade Locks will be meeting with representatives of the Special Districts Association of Oregon and the State Fire Chiefs Association as the City continues to seek ways to bring the parties together. The Mayor hopes that a neutral third party can assist in resolving the issues between the Fire Department and the volunteers. As soon as time permits, the City will begin its search for a permanent Fire Chief, which may resolve issues with the Volunteers, but it will take time for the Hood River County Defense Group to mend its relationship with Cascade Locks.

"The City Council believes the reasons are purely political and stem from issues the City's Fire Department is having with the Volunteer's Association on the one hand, and Hood River County Defense Chiefs' support of the Volunteers to the exclusion of the City's Fire Department on the other. At no time has the Hood River County Defense Chiefs group, led by Jim Trammel of West Side Fire District, sought to assist Cascade Locks in resolving the issues between the City and the volunteers."

Wells noted that, despite the mutual aid termination, his department would respond in case of a serious incident.

"If something big happens we could go (to Cascade Locks) if we could keep staffing here in the city. We don't want to decrease what we do here to provide fire and EMS in Cascade Locks.

Trammell said, "Mutual aid says that when an agency arrives on scene and the situation overwhelms their ability to handle it, they call mutual aid, but they have to have enough resources to respond to services they are responsible to provide.

"Safetywise, if they don't have an incident commander on scene, under law they're required to work under incident command system but there is no incident commander because everyone has resigned or is on leave of absence," Wells stated.

"It's unsafe for our firefighters," Trammell said

"There is a safety issue, a financial issue, a lot of things that make us at this point say it's impossible for us to provide something they can't provide themselves."

"Otherwise, we become primary responder, and that's definitely not what mutual aid is about."

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