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Posted December 14, 2011 | comments 24 Comments

Chief blasts rescue response

Yew: Shenandoah County companies don't respond or arrive late too often

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew offered grim response time statistics -- citing the Woodstock Rescue Squad in particular -- to the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday morning.

During a nine-week period beginning Oct. 1, first-due companies failed to respond to 163 calls, and another 42 calls had a response time longer than the county's standard of 11 minutes, he said.

The response time is how long it takes for personnel to leave a station after a call is dispatched.

"Two-hundred-five times in nine weeks where we did not meet what I consider citizens' expectations or standards that we've set," Yew said. "Two-hundred-five times in nine weeks.

"The national standard for an EMS response from the time the call is dispatched to arrival is eight minutes. Is it realistic to think we will ever get to an eight-minute dispatch to an arrival in a county with these geographics? No.

"[But,] 20-30 minutes to get an ambulance to somebody is not going to work. We have no depth in our system."

Yew recounted a phone call he received Dec. 5 from a woman "crying uncontrollably."

"Her husband had seized, this is 7 o'clock on a Sunday evening," Yew said. "It's extremely scary. They're shaking violently, usually fluid's coming from their mouth, experiencing difficulty breathing. You can imagine what it's like for this wife. No volunteer response on a Sunday evening."

The call was sent to the Woodstock Rescue Squad, which is supposed to have volunteers available when county staff isn't there, Yew said. Career staff isn't there on weekends, he said. No Woodstock volunteers responded, and the call ended up being handled by county staff in Toms Brook, Yew said.

"[The Woodstock volunteers] weren't on a call," he said. "They failed three dispatches that evening. My struggle is what do I tell his wife? She doesn't want to hear that this is part of a volunteer system that we can't always count on."

District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli asked whether calls would be dispatched to companies that are available rather than those that are the first-due for an area.
"That's going to come from me as a general order," Yew said.

He said he planned to meet with the captain and president of Woodstock Rescue Squad on Tuesday night to discuss the issue.

"I know it's very difficult because they're volunteer," District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said. "I guess I don't feel like I can demand that they be there. I just want to know whether or not I can expect coverage or not."

Yew said he could sympathize with not always being able to get enough volunteers during the day.

"But, 7 o'clock on a Sunday evening with a healthy active roster I don't understand," he said.

Yew said this is an across-the-board issue, not just a Woodstock problem.

"We depend upon volunteers in this county tremendously," Ferguson said. "There's a lot of revenue would be required to replace the volunteer staff. We don't have that revenue."
Ferguson said the Woodstock Rescue Squad has gotten new officers within the past couple of months. A representative from the squad couldn't immediately be reached Tuesday.

24 Comments | Leave a comment

    I think the problem comes from the people running the organization and how it is being operated ( they still have some good people dont get me wrong ).I can remember the days when the units were never parked outside and I thought that was the point in adding on to the building and many times you go by and see them sitting out in the weather and personal vehicles parked in the bays for storage or the personal vehicles being washed on the front pad.
    I have heard so much about this places that I do not want to ever have to call them for help unless I know SCFR Career staff is working or a few specific volunteer members are running calls at that time.

    Sounds like there needs to be a change of leadership at WRS and an investment in volunteer recruitment and retention by the ShenCo BOS. Dollar for Dollar, the Volunteers are clearly the best choice, but only when leadership and support is strong.

    I think this article leaves out alot. I have heard that leadership there has changed several times recently due to personal family situations. I also know they have alot of wonderful volunteers who dedicate there time and instead of wasting time writing an article like this, you would think it would serve the community better by showing how family like the organization is, the benefits of being a volunteer there and that they are in need of desperate help right now. When people read this I can only think they will not wish to volunteer there and thats sad because it is a wonderful hard working group of people.

    Concerned resident don’t be so quick to judge the difference between career and volunteer. Most of the career people in Shenandoah County are also volunteers in the county. On the flip side, a lot of the volunteers are career in Northern Virginia where there is actually structure and discipline. I am not disagreeing on the leadership issue in the departments but you will find that is a problem in a lot of the departments you go to. There is obviously an issue but SCFR should stop acting like children by bashing each other and pointing fingers. They need to step up and fix the problem. With them going to the media, they are lowering the morale for not just WRS but other volunteer organizations in the county. Calls are still not getting answered and organizations are continuing to struggle. Be aware if you have never gave 12 hours a week of your life away from your family (not to include training,) you will never truly understand!

    We don't have volunteer police, why do we still have volunteer firefighters and EMT's? To properly protect the lives of the citizens the BOS needs to eliminate the volunteer system and replace it with an all career system. That's what we had in Fairfax.

      Well guess what Wine_Taster, we are not in Fairfax County land of the wealthy. We are in Shenandoah County where resources like that don't exist. Even if they did, I am glad that we have volunteers and I am honored to be one and know many. Not just in this county, but in other counties in Virginia as well. Guess what genius, we all receive the same training as the paid staff, the only difference is that we do it out of care and love of our community and not a paycheck! The next time your house is on fire, or you are in need of rescue personnel wherever you may traveling, are you going to stop and ask if they are paid or volunteer? You just might have to suck it up and get over yourself!

      Um no thats not what we need. I am so sick of people bashing the volunteer system its not funny. Almost ALL career staff have been volunteer at some point. And ever since that "professional" or "career" logo got put on their resume they have become big headed, and arrogant. They are forgeting where they came from and their roots that helped them get that professional firefighter/ems job! No not all but I have seen many times where they are dispatched for a general illness and they drag themselves out of bed complaining that its a "BS" call. Yes citizens they are calling YOUR emergency BS! Volunteers do this for the thrill of helping others they do this because they love and care about the community. Career and volunteer are one in the same just one is getting paid for it and the other is doing it for the love of it. They need to start getting along and working together and GET THE JOB DONE!

    First off wine_taster, we still have volunteers because their are people out here that still actually care about their neighbors and strangers. I bet you don't want the same tax rates you paid in Fairfax. And I am sure that there is still plenty of real estate available there if you don't like it out here.

    One of the questions that keeps coming to mind when the SCFR wants to run departments down in the media is why dont we see this from surrounding areas. I mean Frederick, Warren, Rockingham all have combinations systems yet we never see them in the media like this? How come these other places work together and SCFR can't. How come when career staff treat the volunteers in a station so disrespectfully it almost leads to a fight but they aren't disciplined just moved to spread the attitude somewhere else.

    I recall a article back around Spetember where Yew said that they couldn't determine who should be reponsible for responding to calls. That they couldn't get that data. Maybe that was the anwser when career staff practices of routinely going out of their first due areas to eat at other stations or going to the office leaving their area just as unprotected, just pay attention to the department names on the rigs sitting outside of SCFR Offices on Main St. We are paying for a training officer with his own vehicle, whose apparantly main concern is training the career first then maybe helping the volunteers, and a operations chief with his own vehicle. Wouldn't it be better that these people to actually go out to the stations to do training and administrative functions.

    We also never heard about the career staff in Strasburg failing to respond to two calls. I believe the one call they were in Edinburg at the training grounds. Would it be that hard to ask for some help, maybe from the volunteers, to cover a station when they need to go out of the area. But that would maybe show that both are EQUAL.

    The Shenandoah County Emergency Services is responsible for the number of call outs that they send the Rescue Squad on.

    There are numerous times the squad would never have left the station a few years ago. A deputy would assess the situation on the scene and see if a rescue or fire unit was needed prior to making them respond without need as they do now.

    Yew is part of the problem here as he wants paid staff in every station and is working it his way through the entire county.

    I find it very funny that Mr. Yew, the man who is bashing the Woodstock Rescue Squad, actually lives in Woodstock and has a nice county fire and rescue rig purchased through tax payer dollars but yet did he jump in that vehicle and attempt to assist on any of those calls that Woodstock scratched, or was late on?

    And there are many times driving through Strasburg that I see the county crew stationed at Toms Brook crew eating at a restaurant that is very much out of their first due area. What happens when a call comes out in the southern part of Toms Brook? Does the crew respond within that 11 minute time period? If not, then the spokes people of Shenandoah Country Fire and Rescue are proving to be quite hypocritical, and if they do make it then it is obvious that the driving tenancies of those crews need to be re-evaluated.

    I have always thought that the county was supposed to help keep the county people safe through staffing when needed and supporting the volunteers when needed. When is the last time that Gary Yew or any other county fire and rescue official came out and said something positive about the volunteer departments for all of the tax payers to hear? All I have seen is the officials going department by department making each one look bad and attacking them for one reason or another. Every article I have read has been one sided and unfair. Instead of going to the newspaper attacking a department, why not go to the department and try discussing the issues first? Doing it this way looks more like a witch hunt than anything else.

    And to the Northern Virginia Daily. Where are the comments by officials of the Woodstock Rescue Squad? There is not even a sentence in this article that says that they were contacted and refused to comment. How in the world are you casting a fair portrayal of the issue here without also hearing from the party that is being attacked? How are we supposed to trust you as a worthy news source?

    Bashing Chief Yew provides misdirection to what is the real problem highlighted by this article. Chief Yew does an excellent job trying to coordinate paid and volunteer staff; but working with volunteers is a whole lot like trying to herd feral cats - they go where and when they want irregardless of what anyone else wants or needs; it's the nature of the volunteer organization. And, folks, haven't you heard the ads requesting volunteers for SCFR on the radio; didn't you see PAID staff and festivals working to recruit volunteers??? I DID!!! But I didn't see any volunteers there helping out! This will always be a problem until we do have paid staff to carry the bulk of the load. People seem to have less and less time or inclination to provide volunteer services. The other aspect that we DON'T know about is how willing are the volunteers and their leadership to cooperate with SCFR staff.

    I'm with wine_taster above. Oh woe is me the volunteer who spends all my time from my family and sacrafices so much to train and respond and pound my chest "hero" among others! Give it break! Either get out the door to the call, or accept the tax rate thats going to come to be able to do so. And yes, I volunteered in this system for over 15 years, so I am qualified to speak on the issue. If some of the volunteer stations would put aside their turf issues and egos, maybe Mr. Yew could get something accomplished. I know the man personally. Fought many a fire right beside him and have watched as he has struggled to keep the system alive. This is not a career vs. volunteer issue. If the volunteers had been getting out the door 10 years ago, we wouldn't have career staff now. So now 10 years later, finally, some of the powers that be have had enough.

    ANONYMOUS: I have spent numerous days and nights pulling duty and also have spent time pulling duty when I was not even on the duty roster for that time and have done plenty of my time doing training.
    I do agree that each department has its own issues but WRS is seriously lacking leadership right now.

    VALLEY READER: A representative from the squad couldn't immediately be reached Tuesday.

    For those who are saying its just SCFR is not trying to address the issues that are going on just what would be your suggestion to fix the problems?
    What people are not looking at as yes it is volunteer but when you are not able to fill a duty roster or depend on those people to be able to answer those calls what do you think is going to happen... Volunteers not being dependable is the reason that paid staff is having to be brought in to run these calls.

    As being a resident of shenandoah coutny all my life we do not need to make this place like fairfax. We are low income families. We live paycheck to paycheck. I believe the paid people should be during the day and the volunteers at night. The volunteers work 40 hours a week and volunteer when they can. I believe that if they are going to make the volunteers look bad by putting an article in the paper why don't they inform the paper of when the paid people do something wrong. So please everyone out there support your volunteers.

    Blasting Chief Yew is a fine way to misdirect away from the true problem here - the lack of volunteer response across the county not just in Woodstock. In my personal opinion Chief Yew has done an excellent job operating an emergency system that is a combination of both paid staff and volunteers. From experience I know that managing volunteers is like trying to herd feral cats - well nigh impossible! Have any of you paid attention to the volunteer recruitment ads that have been running on the radio?? Have you seen paid staff at the festivals around trying to recruit volunteers??? I have. But I've not see any of the volunteers participating in those efforts. Unfortunately, the response times are absymal when relying on volunteer staff in the county - those are facts, people. It's not just happening in Woodstock. What are we going to do about it is the question.

    Well lucky were not living in South Fulton, Tennessee. Down there they would be sitting outside your house and watching you convulse and die because you didn't pay your $75 fee.

    Looks like they need to take the Woodstock group out of the first responder list until they get their act together. Also means a percentage of the funds and/or other support given them should be channeled to the groups picking up Woodstock's slack. Maybe not fair to the daytime staff, but funding needs to come from Woodstock for the coverage provided by other volunteer groups. If this isn't done, it's patently unfair to the groups providing coverage and leaves no incentive for the Woodstock group to make the needed improvements.

    Here is a thought for all of you. Have anyone of you all lived or have been around a fireman/ EMT or a firehouse in general. They are hard working men and women. Trust me I know from experience. Stop bashing SCFR, they are doing what they can with what resources are available to save and keep you all safe. You think you can do better? Then do it yourself. It's not fair to bash everyone who puts in hard work, time and effort to help the citizens of Shenandoah County. I know plenty of people who work elsewhere where resources are easier to get. It's also not fair to the citizens of Woodstock to have no response when that could be your family members is need. As for Toms Brook being in Strasburg, so what? They make all their calls in a timely manner, unless they are on another call. These men and women work hard on a daily bases they don't need all of you ungrateful and unappreciative people degrading them, like you are. If you want something done about it, why don't you become a volunteer and get certified and help out instead of criticizing and bashing them when in reality, you probably don't have anything in it or involved and if you are SHAME ON YOU!

    I think it is great to have volunteers; however, they work just like everyone else. Therefore they are not able to run all the calls, so we have paid County Staff. The County Staff are in most of the stations during the week and the volunteers are asked to cover the weekends. Which isn’t a lot to ask but volunteering isn’t what is use to be. There used to be a time where stations had so many volunteers and ran majority of their calls, but times have changed. The population is growing, and there are not as many volunteers anymore. There are stations in the County who need to embrace the help of SCFR. They need to push their pride aside and realize they do need the help of the County Staff. As for SCFR treating the volunteers poorly, it is a two way street. The volunteers have treated the County Staff members just as bad. It’s unfortunate they can’t work together, but you have these issues where ever you go. You just might not hear or see it, but it exists. I don’t think it is fair to put all the blame on SCFR. The community needs to have the best support provided to them, and I think you can only do that with paid staff because they are always there. You never know if the volunteers are on duty or if they will make the call or on time. It is a gamble, and I wouldn’t want to rely on that. I don’t feel that SCFR are only doing it for a pay check, but they truly do care about helping the community just as much as volunteers do. You can’t tell me if you were given the same opportunity to do something you love and receive a paycheck for it, you wouldn’t do it? I find that very hard to believe. They have chosen this as a career and you are right most of them were volunteers before, but I don’t think they have gotten a bighead about it. I personally think that some of the issues are jealousy. You could do the same if you wanted, but for whatever reason you don’t and that’s your choice. SCFR do a very good job responding to all their calls unless they are already on a call. As for them being at other stations or at restaurants, what does it matter because the calls are still responded too in a timely fashion? Unfortunately, when they do receive a call while they are out eating at a restaurant, they have to leave immediately to make the call whether they have received their meal or not. Sometimes they have to eat late or not at all because of their busy schedule. The bottom line is SCFR do a wonderful job answering calls and everyone needs to realize that. You can’t say the same for volunteers. They will never be EQUAL unless they start working together.

    I have been a volunteer for 29 years. I have been one since I was 16 years old. I have faithfully pulled my required duty each month of those 29 years. During that time I have seen a lot of changes in the system, both good and bad. I have seen the number of responses increase steadily each year. During that time, I have also seen the number of volunteers required to hande these calls decrease.

    There is no easy answer to this dilemma. The County needs the career people, plain and simple. I wish I could say different, but it's a fact. I guess since we are stuck with each other we should try and make the best of it and remember why we do this. It is supposed to be to help our fellow man. If it ever becomes less, we should all look for another calling.

    So far as the career and volunteer staffs getting along, I have never seen emails in the newspaper from the volunteers bashing the career staff. It is too bad that SCFR can't say the same thing. I recall emails from career personnel degrading the volunteers in everything from driving to body odor. When the career staff was asked about these emails, they just stated that it was what their bosses told them to do and wasn't personal.

    I know their is no way to make people get along but, like another reader stated, it would be nice to see something nice in the newspaper from the career staff leadership about the volunteers occassionally.

    Like another comment stated, why don't you hear of these issues in Frederick or Warren Counties? Are there citizens better that the ones in Shenandoah County?

    Someone needs to push the reset button and we will start this whole thing over again. I am not sure that the current SCFR can do anything to fix it. There is too much bad blood between them and the volunteers.

    All I can do personnally to try and help is to continue pulling my duty in hopes that things will get better.

    I agree metazip.. What happens when WRS doesn't answer their calls? If it's on the south end, Mt. Jackson Rescue and Fire takes it.. Now you have their ambulance out of their first due area taking that call for Woodstock. Now who's gonna answer Mt Jackson's next call because they are in Woodstock? I challenge any concerned Shenandoah County citizen to go out and purchase a scanner and just sit and listen to it... Then we'll see who's bashing!! Facts are facts.. It's just that simple!!

    Has anyone taken into consideration that Woodstock is one of the busiest agencies in Shenandoah County? Seriously, grab a scanner and listen how many times they get toned out in a day. There is a obvious problem in the system and career and volunteer staffing need to get a long PERIOD! Both are there to do one job and that is taking care of the citizens. I have seen too many attitudes between career and volunteer and not only at the station but ON CALLS! The feuding needs to stop. Both career and volunteer are needed to make this system work.

    The animosity that exists between the volunteers and the professionals is just a symptom of the problem. I am sure both sides are doing the best they can, but the circumstances of life are now dictating change. Let’s review the facts; response times are unacceptable and getting worse, the pool of volunteers is declining, safety of people and property is a growing concern, it’s a life and death situation for everyone and to make matters worse the population will continue to grow (especially in the northern end of the Co.).

    Adequate Fire/EMS services are a necessity. It’s not a problem that’s going away on its own. Sadly, the good ole days when our sleepy little towns could get by with a total volunteer service are over. As we know that hasn’t been the case for years. Everyone should have known that from the first day professional staff were hired.

    Times are not changing, they have already changed. It’s time the county woke up and understood the suburbs of DC are slowly moving into our backyard and it started 25 years ago. The county needs services, jobs, and business to keep money in the county. How will the county attract new business investments and the resulting jobs with inadequate fire/EMS protection? Whatever the solution might be, it’s going to require more sacrifice on the part of the citizens. Get ready. It’s coming. It’s just a matter of time.

    Sadly, I've seen this exact situation play out time and time again all across this state. A study was done a number of years ago where signs were affixed to the inside of ambulances and outsides of fire apparatus. On these signs was detailed information about the name of the department, the unit identifiers, volunteer, career, or combination system information, along with other pertinent items that provided some detail about the services that were provided.

    People were asked after they had received service from the system about the information they had read. In non emergency situations the people were able to relay that information back with very good accuracy. In emergency situations no one could recall any of the information.

    The purpose of the study was to see if it really mattered to people in time of emergency who responded. The results were overwhelmingly NO, it did not matter. People didn't care as long as when an emergency call for service was made that; someone showed up; they were properly equipped; they were properly trained; and they made the problem go away. It did not matter if it was career personnel or volunteer personnel.

    Volunteer fire and rescue systems have been around since the days of Benjamin Franklin. We all know how the world and economy have evolved since then. Gone are the days of closing the hardware store, the drug store, and the barber shop for business owners and employees to run fire calls.

    The volunteer and career bashing on both sides needs to stop. It is counterproductive and the public deserves better. It comes down to this; most localities simply can't afford nor do they have the tax base to put three people on a fire engine and two people on a medic unit twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. If everyone wants to see a massive tax hike then by all means replace the volunteer system with all career personnel. If you want to see buildings burn down and people die then please make it an all volunteer system.

    This takes corporation, understanding, and mutual respect to make this work. If you just do fire and rescue work because it’s a pay check; go somewhere else. If you do fire and rescue work because you like the red lights and siren; go somewhere else. If you do fire and rescue work because of a tax break; go somewhere else. If you do fire and rescue work because of the thrill; go somewhere else. If you do fire and rescue work because you like helping protect your neighbor's life and property and want to be there in their time of need; you are where you need to be.

    Being associated with the fire and rescue system in Virginia for over 32 years now, mostly volunteer, I have seen a lot of destructive things. The writing is on the wall however, if the volunteer system cannot step up and provide dedicated minimum staffing, bodies in the stations ready to respond, the system needs to be covered or supplemented by career staff when those obligations cannot be met. This service if full of egos and idiots and this is not a business where egos and idiots have a place or function; on either side.

    Everyone pointing fingers needs to take a step back and look at the big picture; "Protection of life and property" has long been a fire and rescue creed. It just doesn't say who will do the protecting.

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