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Posted January 29, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Warren fire chief seeks more firefighters

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL - Warren County may expand the ranks of its public safety agencies but needs the money to do so.

The Board of Supervisors heard from county department chiefs at a work session Tuesday on the fiscal 2014 budget. Departments submitted funding requests for the next financial period that begins July 1.

Supervisors reserved the session to hear from departments but plan to wait until a meeting in February to discuss revenue projections that could determine whether the county can afford the requests, said County Administrator Douglas Stanley.

The Department of Fire and Rescue requested $2.19 million for fiscal 2014 - a 22.5 percent increase over $1.79 million in the current budget. That amount includes $1.02 million in compensation for firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The department seeks funding to hire four firefighters, two of whom the agency would assign to work out of the station in Linden. If approved, Chief Richard Mabie's request would increase the number of stations staffed with paid firefighters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The county has paid firefighters in the Linden station during the day only. Statistics for the first six months of 2012 show that Linden has a no-response rate of 25 percent on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays, according to Mabie. One out of every four calls does not receive a response. The Linden station also exceeds the five minutes given for companies to mark on for a call 21 percent of the time. But as Mabie explained, the more telling statistic show the station only responds on time to 54 percent of its calls, when removing the data for the paid firefighters.

"So we see that as a major problem," Mabie said. "Part of the issue is figuring that 46 percent of the time somebody else has to come into their district and pick up that call and most of the time it's Front Royal."

The county has paid staff assisting volunteers at the Front Royal station 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The Front Royal station also ran approximately 3,400 calls for service last year, Mabie noted.

"Being central you know they have to bite that kind of bullet because they're second - or third - due everywhere in the county," Mabie said.

But one incident can empty two stations and a subsequent call requires other companies to respond, Mabie explained. A call of a cardiac arrest recently took four firefighters to respond. While firefighters were successful in treating the patient, Mabie expressed worry over what might have happened had 911 received another call at the same time.

The county may not fund Mabie's request in full for the next fiscal year.

Stanley told supervisors that his recommendation is to cut his four new staff from a July 1 start to Jan. 1 start.

"We'll see as we go through the budget. You know, maybe he doesn't get the four; maybe he gets two and has to make do. But we tried to leave that in because of the need as long as we can to see what happens to the budget," Stanley said.

Also in the area of public safety, Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron has asked for funding to create four part-time deputy positions. McEathron stated in documents provided to the board that the department has experienced an increase in the workload related to special enforcement coverage, background checks and other assignments. Staff currently handles these extra duties. Adding part-time, certified law-enforcement workers could assist divisions and allow the office to cover the special duties, according to McEathron. The sheriff requested $46,775 to fund four deputies each working an average 16 hours per week.

County E911 Communications Supervisor Karen Crum has expressed the need for a trainer coordinator to help personnel enhance their capabilities. Such a coordinator would help save money on the training classes attended by staff. The position would be responsible for training personnel in emergency medical dispatch.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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