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Official wants proof fire situation is dire

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.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."


Ladies and Gentlemen of Shenandoah County, and so it begins.
Chief Williams wishes to place a Captain in three “volunteer” stations, currently being staffed 24X7, by paid personnel. He also wants to place two Lieutenants into the New Market “volunteer” station, to act in the Captains absence. These mid-level supervisors will be pulled from current staff.
What does this mean, promotions for current Fire & Rescue staff! Great, what a great thing right, NOT. Please do not take this wrong, everyone deserves the chance to advance in their job. In fact, if these Fire and Rescue staff are not allowed to advance we WILL lose them to other jurisdictions such as Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. However; when these three supervisors move up, that requires three more new hires to backfill their old positions. (Three more jobs to fund.) Not to mention the higher salaries of the supervisors.
Please Chief Williams, do not sugar-coat this to the public. Just lay out your entire plan now, rather than nickel and dime us, as if we are children. Lay out your entire plan to make Shenandoah County, a paid Fire & Rescue Department.
Approximately three weeks ago, I wrote a comment to an article, mentioning moving current paid firefighters within stations, that would be staffed solely by paid firefighters. Well, here is your list of the first three stations, Strasburg, Toms Brook, and New Market. Funny, am I clairvoyant, NO, just an “Old Salt” firefighter who has seen this trick played out before.
Ante up residents, “the fox is in the henhouse, and getting ready to eat really well.”
Oh yea, truth be known, if they were to play their cards, the Chief really only wants six positions this budget cycle. Ask for twenty-two to really get us upset, whittle it down to thirteen, then mention eight, so when the final figure of six is “settled” on, we all go whew!
This is a very hard subject to address, Public Safety. How much is too much when lives are at stack? Has anyone paid attention to the number of stations/companies that have been responding to incidents reported in this periodical over the past weeks? Eight and nine companies at a time are being called out. Why, volunteers are down, and the paid departments are short staffed. There is a happy medium, nobody has ever really found it yet, but we will keep trying. Of that I am certain.

Most of the problem is within the Administration that requires both fire and rescue to be called out on every single call, no matter what the situation.

There is no need to have both units responding until you know that they are needed. Many times law enforcement is on the scene of a finder bender and should be able to evaluate the need of a response unit. But if Yew and Ferguson have their way, units will respond to every call no matter what the situation!

This crisis of short staffing has been created through HOW the companies respond and not WHEN they are needed.

24 hour manned stations are not required in the county, it's an expensive luxury and personal agenda of Yew and Ferguson to have paid staff in all companies within 5 years or less. Maybe it time to rotate Yew and Ferguson to spend their days in a station instead of behind a desk.

I am beginning to get a bit tired of all the negative press that SCFR is getting from the paper and obviously, from the volunteers around the county. I would also like the BOS to concentrate a little more on the school budget and the top heavy administrative costs. When teachers have to purchase their own supplies for class room activities because there is no money in the budget..... What's going on????? Let's focus on the whole picture here. It's about getting the most bang for our buck in these difficult times. Volunteers, please try to see both sides of the picture; paid staff, coordinate and cooperate is the name of the game.SCFR staff are working with good intentions from everything I have seen so far. Let's all get along to provide good service to the citizens of Shenandoah County. I'm tired of all the back-biting!!! These squabbles remind me of the action in Washington, DC and we know how effective that works. Come on, People!

David ferguson has no problem with spending millions for a new jail and the ever increasing school budget, while enrollment remains nearly the same for years, but he doesn't want New Market to have any money for public safety. PLEASE put us in Rockingham County where we will have the same resources as they provide to their towns

Contrary to your belief, Chief Yew does not set the response guidlines for the county. Who and what responds on a call has been dictated by the Volunteer Fire chiefs and Rescue Captains, some of which is mandated by state and federal guidlines. It's not the "Good Ol'e Boy" system anymore. Everybody has a finger in the pot now days, state agency's, federal agency's, even your insurance company has a say. And yes there is not a lot of "Dispatcher Discretion" any more, due in part, to a need for "consistency". People calling 911 are often unreliable or inaccurate in thier reporting of the extent of the emergency. It's not a perfect system, nor do we live in perfect world. Whats happening here has already been played out in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country. The bottom line is that the BOS, SCFR, and the Volunteers are trying to make sure that when you have an emergency, that you get the appropriate resources in a timely manner.

There are no easy solutions. Don't get the staffing and knowingly continue to put people's lives at risk. Add two career firefighters and out their lives at risk because help is so far away. Across the country elected leaders chose to cut public safety budgets against the advice of the Leadership of whatever department is asking for increased funds. House fires, bad accidents, CHF problems, codes, and some allergic reactions require trained manpower and a quick responce. Managing any of the above incidents with 2 or even 4 people is difficult if not impossible. Because of the geography of the county many responce times are very long and by the time Fire/EMS show up they are behind the 8 ball so to say. The chief is trying to mitigate those issues as best he can. Reading the blogs and comments from county officials leads me to believe that personalities are getting in the way of principals. As a Firefighter/Medic myself I know firsthand the impact this has not only on the members (career and volunteer) but more importantly the citizens we are sworn to protect. So I hope the county and companies involved can put aside their differences and do what's best for the safety of all Fire/EMS personnel and the citizens.

I applaud Mr. Ferguson for making SCFR and the volunteers spell out exactly what they need in terms of help and support to supply their area with adequate coverage for emergency needs. I think it is very sad that the volunteers have all seemed to lost interest in running calls in that area-what a sad day when volunteers simply stop showing up. My question is why?

I don't understand how Mr. Williams can justify the need for supervisors in stations-is he too busy running calls himself all day? I understand that our county is very large and it would take him getting into his vehicle and actually talking to volunteers and his paid staff but both groups are great people! If he actually went to the station and listened to what was going on, maybe New Market wouldn't be in the situation that they are in now.

If we need officers in every station to handle the "small problems" then maybe we should lose some of the "larger problems" in order to pay for them. The SCFR paid staff was implemented by those above them in the SCFR office (that is VERY top heavy) that created issues in the combination system; so why don't we use their salaries for the guys out doing the job everyday?

Has anyone asked the companies that these supervisors are being hired for if they want them? I feel communication is the key for this whole situation and someone is not doing it...or maybe they are afraid of the answers.

You make no sense, how can you blame Chief Yew for any of this. You are right about one point. The blame lies with the volunteers. I was an active and dedicated volunteer for 35 years, and I have always said that the volunteers were their own worst enemies. No training, lack of of training, ego's, attitudes, good ol'e boys, and the list goes on. Fiefighting and EMS started becoming a profession years ago, but to many still feel it is a game. Nothing has been taken away from the volunteers, they have been giving it away for years. I support a combination system. Paid or volunteer, if you show up at my emergency, you better be professional.

You are so right, Been There! What volunteers get out of their "service" is a sense of power and importance that they have not been able to reap from legitimate jobs. Witness Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department and its apologists. Thank Gawd my house does not fall in their purview, but if it did, hey, I don't want some concealed-gun-toting loudmouth appearing at my emergency! I have fabulous homeowners' insurance, paid people to attend my ailing loved ones... why would I want a borderline (at best) criminal privy to the more than $4,800 worth of DIVING equipment that went missing from SFVFD and turned up in the Bahamas showing up at my emergency????? To rip off my valuables????? Or maybe a felon he is harboring will rip off my valuables while he sprays water on my fire???? NO NO NO!!!! I have good insurance, let me get my house rebuilt, but do not subject me to volunteers who get off on their perceived importance... When will someone get them to understand that they are NOT IMPORTANT... they are PATHETIC in their need to feel important... Let's pay what it takes to get CAREER, PAID people to do the job. At least they will have something to lose when things disappear from the firehouse!!!

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good volunteers. Around 99% of the paid providers I know started as volunteers. Only in the last couple of years have some of the volunteer agencies started doing background checks on new members. A volunteer system is doable, but it takes a lot of hard work.

OMG.. I knew yrs ago this was going to happen. People this is what needs to happen. We need the paid staff truth be known. But we need the money to pay for them right. So if BACK woods thinking Woodstock and the county would allow business to come here. Whether it being for once a nice place to eat. Because GOD knows we have nothing in Woodstock. You won’t to go out to eat at a nice place you have to go to Winchester or Harrisonburg. But that’s another story for another day. Or allowing something, anything, other then what we have to come in we could make a killing off the revenues. Remember when Wal-Mart was moving in; the up roar that made LOL. Look at the money Woodstock and the county is making off that place. I hear people say all the time; no let’s keep this a small little town. If I wanted to live in the city I would move there. Well with small little towns comes a small minded person afraid of growth. With no growth a town dies.

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