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Warren County to oversee volunteer fire company

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County assumed more control over a volunteer fire company investigated last year for management and money troubles.

The Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday approved a memorandum of understanding with Clarke County and the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department regarding managerial oversight and dispatching of the organization's crew members for emergency response. The agreement transfers such responsibilities to Warren County. Clarke County and the fire department already approved and executed the memorandum of understanding.

Warren County Fire and Rescue Department Chief Richard Mabie said Wednesday taking over management of the volunteer company likely means some extra work for his agency. But the county and Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Farms Fire Department have worked together for years already even though the station lies just over the border in Clarke County. Some oversight of the company's management existed before because Warren County helped fund the organization, according to Mabie.

"That company has been an integral part of our fire department anyway because ... a majority of their calls are in Warren County," Mabie said. "This isn't anything new as far as being under some scrutiny, some level of oversight, if you will. But that level of oversight now has increased because now Clarke County wants us to basically manage Shenandoah Farms as if they were totally one of our companies."

Under a previous agreement, Clarke County forwards its funding of the fire company to Warren County, which then distributes the money and pays the organization's bills, Mabie explained. The chief noted that Warren County also is assuming oversight because Clarke County doesn't have a department of fire and rescue through its local government. However, Mabie noted he expects to receive directives not only from his immediate supervisors in Warren County but also leaders in Clarke County.

"There is a little extra work," Mabie said, noting that under the new agreement his agency will be more involved in tasks such as verification of training records.

But Mabie noted that he first needs to meet and discuss with the company's officers exactly how far his agency's involvement needs to go.

"My management style is not to dictate," Mabie said. "I would much rather be able to sit down and have us come up with some type of plan of action together."

"There are gonna be some changes," Mabie added. "It might be premature right now to put out what those changes [are] because certainly I have some things in my mind about how to go about this and how to set it up and where to go with it, but at the same token I do want to involve their membership. I'd like for this to be [a] positive experience both for them and me, certainly for the people they serve."

Warren County took over management of the company's finances in December after an audit conducted last spring cited internal strife and found the books in disarray. Clarke County Commonwealth's Attorney Suzanne "Suni" Mackall investigated the situation but, based on the evidence found, did not pursue any criminal charges.

All three entities in November 2011 entered into a memorandum of understanding which allowed Warren County to manage the department's finances.

Specificall, the new agreement calls for Warren County, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, the fire chief and the operational medical director serving the locality to take over operational oversight, coordination and operation of the medical direction of the volunteer fire department. The Warren County emergency dispatch center also assumes responsibility for dispatching personnel and equipment and to integrate the volunteer fire department into the E-911 and dispatch hardware, software and protocols.

The agreement gives the Warren County fire chief access to all books, ledgers, accounts records, logs, notebooks and all other financial, organizational, historical and operational record and documents of SFVFD. The memorandum of understanding remains in affect until all parties agree to modify or terminate the agreement.

Calls received by Warren County 911 are dispatched by the locality and information and/or call is transferred to Clarke County and vice versa. Officials say the new procedure should bring consistency and improved service to residents living in both counties within the Shenandoah Farms subdivision.

Officials have said the transfer of the responsibilities to Warren County would come at a minimal cost if any to the locality.

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