Washougal Fire and Police Chiefs Praise Emergency Workers, City Staff, and Neighbors

December 16, 2011

by Martha Martin

Fire Chief Ron Schumacher and Police Chief Ron Mitchell (Martha Martin/Silver Star Reporter)

In the wake of what Mayor Sean Guard called “a major, major event”, the Mayor introduced Fire Chief Ron Schumacher and Police Chief Ron Mitchell at Monday evening’s council workshop, thanking them for all that they did.

The major event happened Wednesday December 7th, when three people lost their lives during what is now determined to be a murder-suicide in a home on F place in Washougal.  The call to emergency responders started as a structure fire, but escalated into a suspect firing off gun shots for over ninety minutes.  The

Smoke from the fire on Wednesday at 3275 F Place in Washougal (Martha Martin)

home burned to the ground.  Current details on the event can be seen in the Washougal Police press release dated December 12, 2011.

According to Mayor Guard, this was the the largest response by emergency responders to any Washougal event in forty two years.  Guard stated “All law enforcement and fire personnel, and many of our staff throughout the city that helped, everything was done professionally, everything was done to keep children and citizens safe.  There were some anxious hours before knowing what transpired.”

Guard went on to say that this “underscores budgetary items…..it is really important to pay that $15,000 per year SWAT insurance for the county sherrif’s office”, referencing the use of the SWAT team for this event.

The Mayor was complementary to both Fire Chief Schumacher and Police Chief Mitchell, remarking on how judicious they have been throughout the year in their use of overtime, which he says “speaks well about how these two chiefs run their departments.”

Police Chief Ron Mitchell described his experience. “I was just overwhelmed by the response of all the various agencies that were working through this.  ATF,Vancouver, Camas, Clark County…everybody just worked very well together. You would think that we had actually done this before.  Things just went very smoothly.”

Along with emergency responders, the City of Washougal staff was also involved.  Mitchell added his praise of the city staff.  “I made several calls, for instance, to public works. Everybody dropped what they were doing, pulled together, and just made it happen.”

According to Mitchell, decisions had to be made regarding the site and the continued investigation, which required that police “sit on that crime scene”.  The public works department brought 400 feet of fencing to the site on Friday.  This helped police to secure it, and  cut back on the number of people that needed to be posted.  Mitchell stated that “everybody was getting pretty tired, so that was very helpful.”

Mitchell said that a forensic anthropologist has confirmed the finding of three deceased individuals at the area.   He said this will change how the site will now be watched, but that there still will be an ongoing investigation.  He added “hats off to everybody in the city.  It was just obviously a very stressful time for everybody.”

Washougal Fire Chief Ron Schumacher reminded people of the motto of his department.  “Everyone goes home”.  He emphasized that they all were very fortunate that this time everybody was able to go home.”

Schumacher said that the first fire engine that arrived at the scene had been in Camas rather then at the station in Washougal.  This placed them behind police, rather than being first on the scene.  He sees this as playing a part in what could have been a very different outcome.

Schumacher remarked that the agent for Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms (ATF)  was impressed with the way fire fighters managed the site of the fire.  He stated that when they were finally able to go in and fight the fire, it took about four hours to extinguish, with fire fighters doing what he called a “tedious process” in order to preserve evidence.

“We could have gone in there and blasted it with our hose lines, but that was going to disrupt the scene.  So we went in there and it took over 4 hours, just to make sure the fire was out and not to disturb the scene as well,”  said Schumacher.

Schumacher thanked his department for the great job, especially under such trying circumstances.  He said that they started (responding to the event) on Friday at 8am, and that they did not return to the station until about 11pm that evening.

Adding to the stress of the day, according to Schumacher, were an additional ten or eleven calls for unrelated emergencies.

Chief Mitchell added that neighbors on F Place were “wonderful.” In spite of their street being taken over by emergency vehicles, people stepped up to help out.  They brought food to the emergency workers, with one person baking cookies, and someone else arranging for pizzas.  Mitchell stated that “in the midst of all this, it was heartwarming to see all the response from the neighbors.”

Chiefs Schumacher, Washougal & Koehler, ECFR (Martha Martin/Silver Star Reporter)

During Wednesday’s event, emergency responders set up their Command Post in the Washougal branch of Riverview Community Bank.

The bank was closed for most of the day while the event was ongoing.  The employees stayed to help, keeping workers supplied with coffee, and giving officers and fire fighters access to the computer systems for outside communications.

The responders  had phones, conference rooms, restrooms, and bank employees even built a fire in the lobby fire place.

Mayor Guard sent a thank-you note to  Pat Schaeffer, CEO of Riverview bank.  Schaeffer‘s  response was that he saw the responders as the ones needing the thanks for keeping everyone safe.

Dan McPherson, a Washougal police officer who was first on the scene in his patrol car, was shot at while in his vehicle.  According to Chief Mitchell, he is doing fine at this time, receiving minor injuries from flying glass.  His patrol car, which was struck at least four times by gun fire, will continue to be part of continued processing.  Mitchell stated “we believe that there is some evidence inside the vehicle, and that one of the rounds did not exit the vehicle.  So I will have more information on that tomorrow (Tuesday).”

Mayor Sean Guard--photo Martha Martin

Mayor Guard commented on Officer McPherson’s close call. “When you look at the holes in the front of that vehicle, I still do not know how that man is still alive.  It’s absolutely sobering.  It’s a lot of window, but Dan’s a lot of Dan.”

Chief Mitchell added “I think he escaped death by 8 inches.”

City of Washougal Administrator David Scott shared a card from a gentleman who lives on F place.  “Kudos to the fire and police for protecting our neighborhood.  Thanks you guys and girls of the city, you’re great.   I’m often critical of our city, but when the need is there, there is no criticism.  Best wishes to the elected and appointed officials for a better 2012”.

Scott added his personal thought regarding the importance of remembering “the tragedy that this represents for a family in our community.”

Rod Morris, Washougal city council, praised all the agencies involved.  “Not a single shot  (was) fired by any agency except the individual.  We avoided a mass casualty.  Two paramedics were standing right in front, police officers were there, it was amazing that no one else was hurt.”

Morris mentioned how thin the local agencies were stretched, especially with so many other calls that day.

Morris, who had talked with the school districts at that time, stated that the schools were in a Code Yellow lock down.   Students, teachers, and staff  could move within the building, but they could not go outside. If they had gone to Code Red, all would have been required to be on the floor with curtains closed, and lights turned off.

According to Morris, there were children on buses at that time of day. The buses were returned to the bus barn, where the employees and bus drivers “entertained them until the parents came to get them.”

Morris noted that some local businesses were affected.  When Safeway was closed, employees went to the Camas Safeway and helped with the increase of customers coming from Washougal.  He saw emergency workers “going into Neder’s” Cafe and other restaurants.  He was pleased to see some support for those businesses that were close by.

Paul Greenlee, Washougal city council, expressed amazement at how professional the local fire, police, public works, and other departments behaved.  “I’m sure that the After Action reports will have things in them that could have been better, but where I sit, it was absolutely amazing that everything worked as well as anyone could have hoped, better than in a training scenario.”

Jennifer McDaniel, Washougal city council, said her daughter was one of the children who stayed at the bus barn.  She stated that she was confident throughout the event that her daughter was safe, and appreciated the school “robo calls” that notified parents about their children.  She said that there were a “lot of upset parents”, but she appreciated all the help and support that was given to the children, pointing to Charlie Dawson, who kept the children at the bus barn entertained.  McDaniel stated that she was impressed with the way various agencies worked together.

This event brought up new information about an outdated city code that Mayor Guard  plans to bring to a future city workshop.   The code allows for the Mayor or any city council member to take over an active scene.  Guard says this makes no sense, and he proposed that this should be changed.

Responders to the scene on Wednesday included both Washougal and Camas fire and police, Vancouver police,  East County Fire and Rescue, the Portland Police Department bomb squad, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol,  and the Southwest Washington Regional SWAT Team.

Watch for an upcoming story about the emergency responders and how they saw this event as they were on site throughout the day.