Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue considers EMS levy


One of North Clark County’s biggest fire districts may put an emergency medical services levy in front of voters this year as a way to handle the increase in emergency calls it has seen in the past several years.

During Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue’s March 10 board of commissioners meeting, CCFR Chief John Nohr presented information about the district and the potential levy. The district is currently eyeing a levy of 45 to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which would translate to a cost of $225 to $250 a year on a $500,000 home, if the measure is approved.

If the levy is approved, CCFR would hire up to 21 additional personnel, buy two ambulances and create a dedicated emergency medical service (EMS) training position within the department. The increase in resources would help the district handle increases in call volumes that in recent years have surpassed those seen in neighboring districts.

Nohr said the number of emergency calls the district responded to increased by 57% since 2016, with a one-year increase of 17.6% in 2021 from 2020. Though a year-to-year increase of 5 to 6% isn’t uncommon, CCFR’s increase in emergency calls has been greater than other districts in Clark County, which saw 10 to 11% more calls in the same timespan. High priority calls for life-threatening incidents increased 20% in that timeframe. 

The growing population of the district’s area is one reason for the increase. More calls have impacted response times for the district, Nohr said. Response times to high-priority emergencies increased by 11% since 2019.

Though more urban areas run three personnel per apparatus on calls, CCFR usually runs two, which is inadequate for life-threatening emergency calls and car crashes, Nohr said, requiring an additional unit to arrive on the scene. The levy would allow for three personnel per unit across the district, with one being a paramedic.

The levy would also fund an additional staffed unit during daily operations, Nohr said. That unit may be located at its joint station with Clark County Fire District 6. Discussions on how to staff fire district 6 has been under discussion by both districts as the surrounding area increases in population.  

More units in service will help response times to calls, Nohr said, since more personnel will be ready to respond when others are tied up during simultaneous events.

The lion’s share of calls CCFR responds to are medical ones, which in some cases require an ambulance response. CCFR currently receives ambulance service through a contract with American Medical Response (AMR) which went into effect in 2015, Nohr said. At the time of the agreement, the district’s territory was mostly rural, with an agreed response time of 20 minutes or less 90% of the time.

Nohr said EMS levies are fairly common in Washington, with a number of districts in Clark County having one. Those levies are in the 45- to 50-cent range CCFR is looking at for its own tax. 

Nohr said the district currently has two ambulances, though one has been used as a rehabilitation unit for firefighters at calls. He noted CCFR has a license to provide ambulance service.

If the levy is approved, Nohr said the district would maintain its contract with AMR, but CCFR would be able to provide its own response if times were too long for high-priority calls without it. 

“If the private provider is not making it happen, we need to be the stopgap that can help our citizens and get them to the hospital in a timely manner,” Nohr said.

If the district went with a 50 cent per $1,000 levy it would be able to staff one of its ambulances full time to respond to high-priority calls, he said.

CCFR Commissioner Stanley Chunn noted the district is “piggybacked” onto the main contract AMR has with Vancouver, which puts the district lower in the priority chain for service.

“Not to say that AMR would withhold an ambulance, but there are less repercussions to not meeting our obligations than the primary contract holder’s obligations for ambulances,” Chunn said. 

The levy would also allow for capital improvements at stations, Nohr said, including permanent construction at the Woodland station and the construction of a new Ridgefield station on Hillhurst Road.

Currently the district is eyeing the August primary for a potential levy. If a levy is approved in August, CCFR would begin collecting on it in 2023, Nohr said. New personnel would likely be hired in staggered groups, with entry-level firefighters taking about six months to train, while lateral transfers take less time before they are on the job.