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NVDaily

Squad accused of being unprofessional

Documents released by authorities explain dissolution of group

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- A pattern of unprofessional and incompetent performance combined with a lack of volunteers to consistently run calls led the push to shut down the Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, according to documents released by the Shenandoah County administration.

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors dissolved the squad April 14. While the squad fights that action, paid staffers from the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue are running emergency calls in the coverage area, which they've been doing for nearly two years.

Hundreds of pages of plans and correspondence were released by the county government following a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request by The Northern Virginia Daily.

"Personally I think this agency is finished," Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew wrote in an Oct. 16 e-mail to County Administrator Vince Poling and Supervisors Dennis Morris and Conrad Helsley.

He was responding to rescue Chief John Nixon, informing him the squad likely wouldn't be able to come up with a shift-coverage plan.

"There is also an obvious wall between operations and administration," Yew's e-mail says. "This organization has been without those that can serve as mentors, coaches and leaders so long that many members have forgot their purpose and lost their desire."

Yew reiterated his feelings in a Feb. 4 e-mail to colleagues, county administrators, several members of the Board of Supervisors, Strasburg Councilman Carlyle Swafford and Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Association President Dale Fogle.

"The County needs to assume management of EMS delivery to the Strasburg district," the e-mail says.

His e-mail was in response to a schedule submitted by Nixon showing volunteers could cover 10 hours the week of Feb. 2.

"This is not acceptable ... we are paying for 40 plus active members and we are getting a 10 hour commitment," it says.

And, the e-mail says, when there are volunteers available, their officers aren't providing supervision -- "they simply do what they want."

By not following county or state protocols, the volunteers were "causing huge liability issues for the County," Yew's e-mail says.

It says the county takeover needed to happen "with the cooperation of all stakeholders."

About two years ago, operational medical director Dr. Lee Harvey threatened to step down from his position if the squad failed to address its issues within 60 days. He contacted Heather Phillips with the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services, who in an e-mail from August 2007 says a compliance case was opened regarding the squad's response times.

Numerous e-mails and memos from paid firefighter/EMTs working in Strasburg document incidents of unprofessional and discourteous behavior they say was exhibited by members of the rescue squad.

The complaints range from an unwillingness of volunteers to respond to calls, to improper equipment, to incompetent patient care.

Without seeing the documents containing the complaints, Nixon said in a Friday afternoon phone interview that he couldn't address specific issues, and that personnel matters were confidential. He said Shenandoah County has no "regulatory authority" when it comes to the squad.

"There have been a small number of operational issues brought to our attention by the county over the past year," Nixon said. "Those matters were immediately addressed according to our policies and either corrected or found to have no factual merit. We have had numerous operational complaints regarding the county, and some were forwarded to them to address. However in those cases, we chose not to be nitpicky and childish in pointing fingers [if] somebody made a mistake or did something we did not like."

In November, firefighter-EMT Joseph Hickey wrote a memo to Shenandoah County Operations Chief Tim Williams saying a person with chest pain was placed in a Strasburg ambulance, which had out-of-date warm packs and only one full oxygen tank on board. Hickey's memo says the volunteer did an "unsatisfactory" job of taking vital information from the patient, and paid staff took over.

Additionally, it says, the ambulance went through intersections with no siren on.

In another incident, three Strasburg rescue vehicles responded to a crash scene for one person with an arm injury, Hickey writes. He said the volunteers had to be told by a firefighter how to put the patient on a backboard, and by Hickey how to splint the arm. When returning to Strasburg, the county unit was nearly hit by a squad unit, he writes.

"The unit never slowed or yielded to on coming traffic," Hickey's letter says. "The unit was en route to standby at the high school football game."

In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Williams, Richard Funkhouser refers to the rescue squad as "the [Co.] 25 follies."

It says county staff responded to a person with breathing trouble at a local nursing home, and were joined by volunteers nine minutes after the call was dispatched.

"Here [comes] the follies part -- this was their meeting night," the e-mail says. "They had a building full of people."

Funkhouser's e-mail adds that two Frederick County firefighters told him several volunteers were disparaging the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue and the county government at Middletown Fire Department.

"In his exact words they were both screwing Co. 25," the e-mail says.

In an Oct. 31, 2007, e-mail to Williams, Hickey writes that he and Matt Nugent were asleep when a call came in after midnight.

As the paid staffers left on the call, they saw two volunteers who had been at the squad all night standing in the parking lot, who didn't go on the call, the e-mail says. The volunteers were still there when Hickey and Nugent returned.

"We were shocked (not really) to see the two volunteers scurry out of the parking lot with not so much as a wave, when we returned in quarters at 1:35 am.," Hickey's e-mail says. "Just an FYI, looking forward to the days when we don't have to deal with this mess!"

Frederick County Fire and Rescue Department Director Gary DuBrueler sent Yew a letter in July 2007 regarding Middletown's frequent mutual aid responses to Strasburg. The letter says that Frederick County crews responded to more than 600 incidents in Shenandoah County in 2006.

Harvey sent Williams an e-mail in April 2006 saying the two "MUST" meet with the rescue squad members and a couple of their officers regarding a "no transport call" a couple days earlier. It involved an infant with "tongue trauma" who "ultimately" was taken to the emergency room in a personal vehicle, and immediately flown to a pediatric intensive care unit at a Northern Virginia Hospital.

Excerpts from documents pertaining to rescue squad

Career staff communicated complaints and frustrations regarding their volunteer colleagues in the Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Among the allegations:

* Volunteers in personal vehicles were photographing and videotaping career staff at a fire scene.

* A Middletown Fire and Rescue medic told paid firefighter-EMT Billy Cook that a Strasburg volunteer who had arrived at a medical call did nothing for the patient in the seven minutes before the Middletown medic arrived.

* Volunteers were directing traffic at a car crash rather than assisting a patient.

"I find it unacceptable that the first arriving EMS unit chooses [to] complete a task, non related to their purpose (traffic control) rather than assess multiple patients on the scene," firefighter-EMT Joseph Hickey wrote in a memo to county Operations Chief Tim Williams.

* In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Williams, Richard Funkhouser refers to the rescue squad as "the [Co.] 25 follies."

His e-mail says a crew showed up to a call with lights and sirens, only to tell the paid staff "they could not transport because they did not have time they just wanted to see what was going on."

"Co. 25 only has crew on Friday night if there is a home football game," the e-mail says.

Funkhouser adds that one volunteer always wears "holey" cut-off shirts on calls; that two volunteer units went to Food Lion with lights and sirens on to assist someone who locked his keys in his car; and that volunteers had a medic from Middletown join them en route to the hospital to help with a patient who may have dislocated his elbow.

"If Co. 25 does not feel comfortable they will call Middletown medic to ride with them," the e-mail says. "This happens all the time and most of the time it is a [basic life support] call."

* An EMT-paramedic from Frederick County sent an e-mail to Williams last November concerned that a Strasburg ambulance crew that picked him up at the I-81 Middletown exit was transporting a patient who had overdosed in Woodstock to Winchester Medical Center.

"I write this because I'm concerned that a hospital was bypassed for an inappropriate reason," Perry McAlister wrote. "I feel that if the BLS providers felt the need to call for an ALS provider, and if they felt that driving at midnight with lights and sirens, that they should have been transporting to the nearest facility. The patient was picked up in Woodstock and it was nearly one hour between the BLS units arriving on scene and arriving at WMC."

* Hickey e-mailed Williams in September 2007 that before he could dress and get into his gear for a night call, volunteers had left with the unit reserved by the career staff, and thrown his turn-out gear on the ground. His helmet was also missing.

-- Source: Documents acquired from Shenandoah County through a FOIA request




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11 Comments



firemanswife

Once again I would like to thank Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue for picking up the slack of Co. 25!! Without their passion for their careers and their training, the residents of Strasburg would've only suffered longer. Special thanks to Gary Yew, Timmy Williams, Billy Street and the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisers for keeping the best interest of Shenandoah County first!

scfr.sucks

What is the minimum education requirement for SCFR employees? After reading some of the emails written by SCFR employees, I would say 1st grade.

formerrescuevolunteer

First off some of these complaints are petty and the paid guys are acting childish, just saying anything because Timmy Williams told them to voice their complaints.

Second, its funny how ALL of the SCFR guys were or still are volunteers and most of them volunteer in the NORTH end of the county so do you really want them picking you up??

Third, as a former volunteer in Shenandoah county this stuff goes on at every station 25 is just being picked on, the citizens do not know half of what does go on so why dont we just let it all out...because we all know that its not just that and you know what i am talking about

Fourth, Mistakes happen at every station and well there are volunteers throughout every station in this county I wouldnt want picking me up. So maybe the county should be monitoring the mistakes of all the stations.

i honestly think that the career staff are just complaining about every little thing that goes on so they can take over 25 and eventually the whole county

4volunteers

I feel that this article only shows a one sided view to the public about SVRS. I believe if the allegations made in the e-mails were discussed with the members of Strasburg, you would see that there are two sides to every story-including this one. It blows me away that these documents were published as they were.

It is amazing to me that so many people who are not involved with SCFR or SVRS appear to know the answer to every problem that has been mentioned in this article. It appears that SCFR needs you; so go volunteer or would you be worried that everything that you were doing would be viewed under a microscope?

All of the firefighters/EMTs for SCFR are very well-trained men and women; so are the volunteers. If the SCFR staff had known that e-mail and letters that had submitted to SCFR administration would become public, I think the comments would not be written the same. Not that I believe they would have felt differently, but the comments would have been written in a professional manner.

It is usually protocol for correspondence between employees and their supervisors to be kept confidential and names left out of the equation if these comments do become public. SCFR administration shouldn't have let their employees names in any form be connected to the complaints. This has accomplished even stronger hard feelings between SCFR staff and volunteers-for what purpose?

The Board of Supervisors, Strasburg Town Council and SCFR administration should not have closed down Co. 25; they should have changed them to supplemental staffing. This would have accomplished several things:

1. If the career staff had issues with volunteer training, it could have been addressed on a one-on-one basis. Constructive criticism is something we can all learn from.

2. Would it be so bad if the SCFR paid staff had an extra set of hands on their units?

3. The citizens of Strasburg would have 2-4 units ready to help; right now there is only 1.

Please ask Mr. Yew, Mr. Williams and possibly Mr. Street where their love of the fire/rescue service started...all with a desire to ride on a big red truck, running lights and sirens. They got to feed that desire by starting as a volunteer. While all three have the welfare of Shenandoah County in mind, I simply say-do the right thing and stop all these walls from being built up between career and volunteer staff.

trying to get the job done

I would like to say that Iam a vol. with this fine county. And to Mr. funkhouser I say that sure some might not be as wonderful as you, however you should be ashamed of yourself for calling co. 25 follies. And let me tell you I am a very caring person with a great bed side manner and I am very well trained. I have not spent 10 years away from my husband and children for training and running calls just to have someone to say that Iam not. You along with scfr paid staff and especialy Mr williams have built yet another wall between paid help and vol. help and rest assure the public will know this. There is no doubt that as your email in late 2006 stating that you know you wont have to put up with co. 25 much longer, or how you were told by Mr. Williams to report all of the childish things that you did in your emails is proof that SCFR DID NOT COME INTO STRASBURG VOL. RESCUE SQUAD TO HELP THEM BUT YOU ALL HAD EVERY INTENTION OF SHUTTING THEM DOWN. To all vol. companies I say bewear they are trying to take over all compaines, you know to start Mr. Williams new little Fairfax he should be so proud. I wonder what happens to some of those envented paid jobs if this plan fails and svrs reopens. Thats a thought all citizens should ask Mr. Williams and Mr. yew. After all they both stated at the meeting at Toms Brook that after spending hours of tax payers dollars on their clock that they did not have a game plan for working with svrs only one for taking it over. To all citizens svrs will tell their side and hopefully all will see the facts for what they are. Even though they couldnt meet all calls atleast our citizens would not be waiting 25 min. for a rescue squad while the very people who shut them down stood by and watched. I wonder how the town council and the shen. county board members felt that day while they watched. I say let those guys and girls run. If the paid staff would be as caring as they say they are then we all together could be answering all the calls for strasburg. Gee it doesnt take a real smart person to know thats all we needed. Not a take over, a come in and help us out.

Valley Girl 74

After reading all of the correspondence written between SCFR and other professional staff as well as my own experiences in the community. I am thankful that when I call 911 there is no doubt in my mind that a squad will respond to my home or to a unfortunate accident quickly. This was not always the case in the Northern end of our county.
We should be thankful that these men and women put their lives on the line each and every day to help others. Whether they are being paid to do so or volunteering their time.
Having moved back to the area from a neighboring county who has had paid fire/rescue personnel for many years I was in shock that Shenandoah County had not yet reached this level of providing for their citizens. In fact my homeowners insurance doubled simply because there was no guarantee response time. (Also paid personnel and volunteers can work well together, because I was a volunteer with those paid guys, it would appear that Co. 25 has some Ego's that need to be checked at the door and remember what is in the best interest of their community)
Thank you to our Supervisors for recognizing the best interest of the citizens of this great county. Timely fire/rescue response can not be traded at any costs.
Furthermore, how do the think the citizens of Frederick County felt about paying for their fire/rescue services to continuously be responding to cover Co. 25's lack of responding? We wouldn't want our tax dollars to cover another county's troubled rescue squad. I believe at one time Middletown responded over 600 times in one year for Co. 25.

formerrescuevolunteer

In the end the truth will come out we all know that Timmy Williams and Gary Yew just want this to be an all paid county which will never happen.

ivolunteer4you

They say that there are two sides to every story and i believe that is true. Most f the allegations made by SCFR towards the volunteers at SVRS sound horrible in the text that they have been presented in, but here's some food for thought to those that are not associated with a fire or rescue agency or are not famililar with protocols:

* Volunteers in personal vehicles were photographing and videotaping career staff at a fire scene.
-This sounds slightly arrogant to me. First, who's to say that they were specifically taking pictures or videotaping career staff? Who's to say they weren't taking pictures of the fire or their company members or friends from the fd to look back on in an few years or even at the end of the year? Can you say, company slideshow at Banquet?

* A Middletown Fire and Rescue medic told paid firefighter-EMT Billy Cook that a Strasburg volunteer who had arrived at a medical call did nothing for the patient in the seven minutes before the Middletown medic arrived.
-This is hard to believe. In seven minutes time, a full set of vitals can be taken, the patient placed in O2 and loaded onto the cot, waiting for the medic and patient history can be obtained. I doubt that any EMT would stand around for 7 minutes doing nothing in front of a patient.

* Volunteers were directing traffic at a car crash rather than assisting a patient."I find it unacceptable that the first arriving EMS unit chooses [to] complete a task, non related to their purpose (traffic control) rather than assess multiple patients on the scene," firefighter-EMT Joseph Hickey wrote in a memo to county Operations Chief Tim Williams.
-Any EMT or Firefighter knows that you do not enter a vehicle at the scene of an accident until it has been stabilized. If the ambulance was the first piece their I applaud the EMT's for looking out for their own safety, by not entering a potentially unsafe vehicle, and for directing traffic away from the patient that was still in the vehicle and themselves to prevent further injury to the patient or to a member of their unit.

* In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Williams, Richard Funkhouser refers to the rescue squad as "the [Co.] 25 follies."

His e-mail says a crew showed up to a call with lights and sirens, only to tell the paid staff "they could not transport because they did not have time they just wanted to see what was going on."

"Co. 25 only has crew on Friday night if there is a home football game," the e-mail says.Funkhouser adds that one volunteer always wears "holey" cut-off shirts on calls; that two volunteer units went to Food Lion with lights and sirens on to assist someone who locked his keys in his car; and that volunteers had a medic from Middletown join them en route to the hospital to help with a patient who may have dislocated his elbow."If Co. 25 does not feel comfortable they will call Middletown medic to ride with them," the e-mail says. "This happens all the time and most of the time it is a [basic life support] call."
-a career guy is complaining because theres a call crew on every friday night that theres a home football game? Werent they just complaining that there was never a crew on? Be happy that there is a crew there, whatever the reason. I believe the fire department also assists people who have looked there keys in their car. Holey Shirts on calls, again complaining about the fact that theres someone there running calls. Yes they shouldnt be wearing holey shirts, but at least theres someone there. That is an issues that is easily solved. Has someone set down with this individual to address proper dress code while running calls? And the EMT that called for a medic on a dislocated elbow, pain killers anyone? That would be painful for a patient to endure and an EMT can't administer pain killers, even if it is a bls call, that medic was there to provide patient comfort.

* An EMT-paramedic from Frederick County sent an e-mail to Williams last November concerned that a Strasburg ambulance crew that picked him up at the I-81 Middletown exit was transporting a patient who had overdosed in Woodstock to Winchester Medical Center.
-Nothing against SMH, but Wincester has better facilities and as long as the Patient was stable and the family requested that the patient be transported to Winchester, why not? My thoughts wonder to, where in earth was the Medic from shenandoah county on this call and why weren't they dispatched to the scene of an ALS (advanced life support) call?

* Hickey e-mailed Williams in September 2007 that before he could dress and get into his gear for a night call, volunteers had left with the unit reserved by the career staff, and thrown his turn-out gear on the ground. His helmet was also missing.
-It's the middle of the night, you dont make a call, and you get to climb back into bed and go back to sleep. WHY ARE YOU COMPLAINING?! So the volunteers took the truck that you, carelessly left your gear on. When you got off the piece why didnt you set your gear off along the wall where its within easy reach and you wouldnt of had to worry about it being "thrown off" and as for your missing helmet, i'd personnally be glad that they didnt "throw" my helmet off the truck, it hitting the ground adds to wear and tear potentially ruining the helmet before its time. Also, they didnt steal your helmet, im sure you found it on the truck when they got back, so why the childish fuss? Further more, career staff is there to supplement the volunteers, the career guys complain anyother time they have to run a call so why are they complaining this time that they didnt have to? Also, if the career staff is sleeping upstairs and the volunteers respond from home, why did it take so long for the career staff to get out of bed and get to the truck? Shouldn't they have beaten the volunteers?

Again, theres always two sides to everystory and so much of the story behind these acqusations have been left out. But from what i can piece together from the little information there is, there are such frivilous complaints. Surely tax payers money is going to better use then this??

VOLUNTEER4SC

Valley Girl-

I think you need to move back to the county you were in. I dont think you are comprehending this problem very well.

Now that there is only ONE rescue squad in Stasburg you will have a SLOWER response time if 10-1 is out on call. Another rescue squad has to come from a DIFFERENT town taking up to 30mins to get there. Listen to the scanner every now and then. 10-1 has been running there behinds off lately and the county has been calling in toms brook, middletown, and even woodstock. That is taking another ambulance out of another town that may need help for one of there OWN calls.

The papers and Tim Williams, Gary Yew, or BILLY STREET FAILED TO MENTION THAT THE DAY OF THE "DISSOLVING" 10 UPCOMING EMT WENT TO TEST. MOST PASSED AND NOW THEY HAVE NO WHERE TO PRACTICE! they were trying to make a difference.

In one quote it says there were two volunteers who were standing in the parking lot at the time of a call and they were still there when paid staff got back.
I have one question about this. Was one a EVOC certified? And was the other EMT certified? because with out both being one or the other then that ambulance CANNOT leave the building. The paid staff STILL would of had to transport!!!

"* Hickey e-mailed Williams in September 2007 that before he could dress and get into his gear for a night call, volunteers had left with the unit reserved by the career staff, and thrown his turn-out gear on the ground. His helmet was also missing." _
-Stop WHINING!!! You didnt have to go on the call and you got to go back to bed!


****************************************************
-Firemanswife!!!

I said it before and ILL say it again. Stop sucking up to SCFR!! Your prob one of the SCFR wives! The volunteers have a passion for fire and rescue and they have just as much training as the paid staff does. The Strasburg residents are SUFFERING MORE NOW thanks to the SCFR and Board of Supervisor because if that ONE ambulance is now on a call its going to take at least 15-20minutes for another to get there! They didnt have the best interest in Shenandoah COunty because if they did they wouldnt have shut the rescue down and would have continued to help them get on there feet. They wouldnt have plotted against them and had meetings behind everyone back! And no offense but I hope you LIVE in STRASBURG because if you local paid staff is out on a call and you get hurt no one will be there to save you for awhile since its going to be another ambulance from another town coming to save you!!!!! Keep that in the bac of your mine.

Valley Girl 74

Volunteer4SC--

Please remember that I was a volunteer in a county where career staff and volunteer staff were able to work together. I do live in the Strasburg area and I have no fear that I will have a good response time and great medical attention given to me should I need to call 911. I have faith in not only our career staff but in those who volunteer. If the certain individuals can't move on from this and work for the greater good of the community, only our citizens will be hurt. As EMT's and FF's we volunteered to help people, not harm them.

Before you throw stones at people, remember that your house probably has windows too. Several years ago one of the leaders of Strasburg Rescue Squad was in the newspapers for his actions at Woodstock Rescue Squad, and it appears all was forgiven by Strasburg Rescue Squad wasn't it? Should I make the assumption based on prior history of this one individual that Strasburg Rescue Squad's financial records should be scrutinized?

SunShine751

Whoa Whoa Whoa! Talk about a pissing contest! I understand that everyone is still emotional about SVRS being shut down, but seriously, have some dignity people. You can stay on here all day arguing back and fourth over who's right in this situation and who isn't. The point is this, all of the facts aren't out on the table. So far all we know is that Strasburg went from having 4 operational ambulances to 1, SCFR's 1 ambulance can't handle all of the calls, and everyone thinks they know everything about whats going on. The only people that know the real true reason SVRS was shut down is Timmy Williams and Gary Yew. And honestly, with all of the "support" they've been given by the town do you think they are gonna tell anyone anything? No. SCFR, the board of supervisors, and the town council have not gotten the support from the citizens of Strasburg like they believed they would. Which I find humorous. Everything will play out, and one way or another, there will be proud volunteers still serving the community of Strasburg. I just hope that its in a 25 piece rather than a 10 piece.

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