By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK - Living quarters may soon improve for Shenandoah County's paid firefighters stationed in Toms Brook.
The Board of Supervisors held a work session last week and heard from representatives of the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Company and the town regarding the ongoing effort to renovate the area of the station used by paid Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department firefighters.
Board Vice Chairman Dennis Morris made a pitch for the fire company's request of the county to help pay for renovations to their station. Morris, whose district includes the town, said the county has "more than enough" in the public safety budget, from grant money and other revenue, to pay for the project.
Fire Company Chief Jeremy Fauber and Greg Wakeman, the organization's president, appeared with Toms Brook Mayor Phil Fauber to give the board information on the effort. Several other company members also attended the meeting.
Chief Fauber said the company's request is "something that we've worked hard to try to accommodate and meet everybody's needs and obviously keep the cost low."
Currently, he said, the company uses an office for temporary sleeping quarters for firefighters. "It's not really the best situation, but we made the best situation out of a bad situation," Chief Fauber said.
Morris noted that a memorandum of understanding exists between the fire company and the county allowing the organization to ask supervisors for financial help. As Morris explained, Toms Brook has less money available when compared to other towns.
"They are at a disadvantage when it comes to local tax dollars or local support because they have basically residential and they don't have the luxury of being a Woodstock, Strasburg or Mount Jackson," Morris said.
But Supervisor Dick Neese expressed some opposition to helping the volunteer station financially with the project. He noted that the New Market fire company faces a large amount of debt for work on its station, which was designed to accommodate paid personnel.
"I just see that once we go out and do this, then it's going to be awful hard not to approve anything else that comes along," Neese said.
Board Chairman Conrad Helsley said he understood Neese's point, but noted that the county would need to consider each request on a case-by-case basis.
Should supervisors choose to grant the fire company's request, the county would need to enter into an agreement that would guarantee the money for the project, Helsley said. Morris added that the matter then would go through the Toms Brook Planning Commission and Town Council for necessary approvals. The contracted firm could begin work on the renovations immediately and complete the project within 90 days, Morris said.
Morris said he would recommend the board, at its night meeting this month, provide approximately $94,600 for the project. He said he also would recommend that the agreement call for the company to reimburse the county for the funds should the organization dissolve in the future.
Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli asked whether the Toms Brook organization had looked at loans. Chief Fauber cited at least one large expense the company expects to see in the near future as a potential problem if they seek a loan for the project.
Fire Marshal David Ferguson and building inspectors in 2012 identified safety issues with the sleeping quarters used by the station's emergency workers.
Company representatives approached the board in June about the need to renovate the living quarters. Discussions continued in August. The company's fire and rescue workers advised the Toms Brook station remains a central and key location for emergency responders between two of the busiest sections of the county.
Toms Brook is located near a truck stop. The town includes 225 acres for potential light industrial or commercial development, Morris noted. He added that more than 50 percent of the company's fire and rescue calls came from the area north of Strasburg and south near Woodstock. Toms Brook responds to many calls outside of the company's primary, "first due" area, Morris explained.
The station representatives presented an old bid, submitted in 2010, for the project to supervisors last summer that estimated the cost at approximately $120,000, Morris said. But the board requested the company come back with a newer bid and a financial statement that could illustrate the station's needs. Engineers designed a plan for the renovations that the station then advertised for bids, Morris said. The lowest bidding firm's designs were adjusted again to reduce the cost from $101,203 to $94,655, according to figures from the company.
"They did everything they could in their power to get the cost back down to benefit not only the fire department but also the county," Morris said.
But the company faces some fiscal challenges. The station spent $10,000 on repairs to the 1996 fire engine the company uses as its main vehicle. But the company expects it will need to replace the equipment in the future at a cost of $400,000-$500,000.
Town leaders and the company have discussed the possibility of putting a temporary trailer at the fire station to accommodate the firefighters. The mayor told the board the town zoning regulations do not allow the addition of a trailer on the property. Council broached the idea of issuing a temporary permit to the station for a temporary trailer, but such a structure would still clash with the aesthetics of the surrounding area, the mayor said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org