CAMAS, Wash. -- Camas-Washougal firefighters said they were recently faced with the decision of saving someone's life, or abiding by the law, a decision they blame the City of Camas for having to make.
“The potential for that happening has been in place for the last 15 years,” said firefighter Adam Brice, president of IAFF Local 2444.
On Feb.14, Brice said a smoke alarm triggered an automatic response to a house fire on Prune Hill in Camas. When the engine, manned by the city standard two-person crew arrived, firefighters heard cries for help coming from the garage. By state law, there should have been three firefighters on scene before they entered the building, but there weren't.
“There were two firefighters that entered the structure they shouldn't have gone into,” said Brice. “But we're firefighters and you can't send firefighters to a fire and have someone banging on a door and expect us to just sit outside and do nothing.”
Brice said the incident underlined a need they’ve been asking the city to meet for years: adding at least one more firefighter per engine. That would amount to staffing 15 more firefighters at a cost of $1.5 million to taxpayers.
“We're certainly going to re-look at our procedures and maybe that type of call needs to be responded to, differently,” said Pete Capell, Camas city administrator. “I commend [firefighters] for what they did that day.”
Capell pointed out that 85 percent of the calls Camas firefighters respond to are medical. He also said house fires reported through 911 calls usually trigger multi-engine responses. He said what happened on Valentine’s Day was an anomaly.
“This was the first event like this,” said Capell.
Brice said firefighters’ safety shouldn't be based on the average call.
“Every time we respond on something, it's the exception,” Brice said.
After firefighters were forced to break the law, Brice said they the reported the incident to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and once again, brought their concerns to the city.
“We didn't get any real response that indicated they were interested in changing anything at all,” said Brice.
Capell said the issue of firefighter staffing would be a topic of discussion at the April 2 city council meeting, and moving forward as they develop the 2019-2020 budget.