By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Two weeks after New Market Fire Chief Robbie Smith pleaded for personnel help from the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said he needed more evidence.
Smith was one of the volunteer fire chiefs throughout the county to ask the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue to request more paid personnel to combat dwindling volunteer participation.
In all, 22 more fire and rescue career staff were requested by volunteer agencies, and County Administrator Doug Walker whittled that down to 13. Those proposed hires would cost roughly $700,000 a year.
"Somebody's going to get hurt or killed," Smith said during a Board of Supervisors' budget work session March 15. "I'm in a position where I'm failing as a fire chief. We don't have the people."
The supervisors again discussed the budget during a work session Thursday.
Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew has said even bringing the number of career staffers at New Market Fire and Rescue to 18 -- there are already some career staff there -- would still just provide "bare bones" coverage.
Ferguson said Thursday adding so many firefighters to the company "basically would [lead] me to believe that we have a total failure of the volunteer fire department in New Market because we're staffing a fire department around the clock."
"That bothers me," he said. "It bothers me that if that happens, then what happens to the future of the New Market Fire Department, and does that mean that down the road the county is going to be responsible for the fire trucks, the building and other costs"
"To me, this move, to say we're going to go into New Market Fire Department and basically furnish the service ... that's a first for this county."
However, three years ago the county took the controversial step of disbanding the Strasburg Rescue Squad after repeated call failures, and replacing it with county staff. By October, the volunteer company was again allowed to run calls, although it continued to heavily rely on paid staff.
On Thursday, Ferguson said he didn't hear Smith say New Market firefighters couldn't run any calls.
"I would like to get some kind of a written document from the New Market Fire Department that says...we cannot make calls, we do not have the staff," he said. "It's just hard for me to believe that we're at the point in New Market that there's not a community-based effort to continue with their volunteer organization. I would like to get a little more from them than just the chief showing up and saying, 'I need help.'"
District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris asked if there were volunteers able to make calls on weekends.
"[The need] is pretty much around the clock," Department of Fire and Rescue Operations Chief Tim Williams responded.
Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price said she thought New Market had been relying on mutual aid from Rockingham County.
Williams and Training Officer Billy Streett also explained to the board how the department would make use of current paid staff to provide better leadership.
Williams said outside of the meeting he's recommending there be captains assigned to each station getting 24-a-day coverage from county staff. Those are Strasburg, Toms Brook and New Market.
Additionally, there would be two lieutenants stationed at New Market who could be leaders when there is no captain there. These mid-level supervisors would be pulled from current employees, Williams said.
"This is a mentor, to be someone to go to," Williams told the supervisors. "We will work with [volunteers]...whatever they wish for that officer to do, we will do [to] the best of our ability, and work hand in hand with them.
"Little problems now often get swept under the rug, I will not kid you, because there's one of me and a whole bunch of stations we have career personnel in. We do have problems that fester because I'm the only one. This is expected to correct that."
District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli asked how only adding eight additional personnel, instead of 13, would affect the county fire department's plans. Williams said he'd have to look into that more.
A Woodstock Fire Department volunteer expressed concern at the March 15 meeting that younger volunteers could get discouraged if paid staff hog calls.
Williams said Thursday paid staff do not take calls away from volunteers.
"If there's a volunteer crew at that station that want to take that call, we will stand back," he said. "We will not steal their calls."