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Strasburg squad asks county for help

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- The Strasburg Rescue Squad made a plea Thursday to Shenandoah County leaders for more paid responders to help cover emergency calls.

A squad representative told the Board of Supervisors at a work session that the request comes as a "last resort." But a lack of volunteers needed to cover certain times of the week prompted the squad to ask for paid responders.

Board Vice Chairman Dennis Morris gave a brief introduction to the issue.

"We've been working with the squad and they've been very diligent for month after month after month covering on weekends," Morris said. "They've really stepped up and they probably double-shifted and triple-shifted and whatnot to fill those voids and we appreciated that, but they needed a little help."

Chief Gary Yew of the Department of Fire and Rescue recommended that the county fund the hiring of two additional responders who would work out of the Strasburg Rescue Squad. The paid responders would enhance the squad's ability to answer calls in its coverage area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The county department entered into an agreement with the squad several years to staff the station with paid responders 24 hours a day for five days a week, Yew said. The squad agreed to staff weekends with volunteers, an arrangement Yew said has worked.

But the number of volunteers taking the weekend shifts has fallen to the point they run the risk of burning out, Yew said.

Brandon Dodson, first lieutenant with the squad, told the board the organization has 20-25 volunteers available for weekends. He noted that the squad is "running out of resources at this point."

"We manage, but it's getting tougher and tougher," Dodson said.

Granting the recommendation would cost the county approximately $120,000 a year, an amount not currently allocated in the budget, Yew noted that the county would need to hire personnel already trained and certified.

Brenda Beeler, squad secretary, said the organization didn't make the request lightly.

"This was our last resort," Beeler said. "We have talked about this for months."

Morris said when the county began staffing the squad five days a week the board left the door open for the volunteer organization to come back and ask for help.

County Administrator Mary Beth Price told the board the squad made its request in June.

In response to questions from Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli, Dodson said if the county hired the extra staff this would not discourage volunteerism at the squad. Likewise, Dodson noted the squad continues to recruit volunteers.

Supervisor David Ferguson voiced concerns with the possibility the county could spend the money to hire more responders to staff the squad. Ferguson also questioned the health of the volunteer rescue squad if it could not find people to cover certain times of the week.

"I guess I don't want to paint a rosy picture for the public that we have a healthy rescue squad at Strasburg -- when I say healthy, one that can pull shifts -- when we don't, all we have are some volunteers that can come in at their choosing to pull when there's a second due," Ferguson said.

Dodson said that squad would open shifts to volunteers through the week rather than just on weekends.

Ferguson and other board members agreed they needed more time to consider the recommendation before they make any decisions. Dodson told the board the rescue squad can wait a month or two to hear back from the board.

Beeler said volunteers must serve 18 hours a month to remain active members. She said she would expect volunteers to trickle back in if they see that shifts come available during the week. Beeler recalled that the squad morale increased when the county began assigning career staff to the station.

Ferguson lauded the volunteers for providing services that otherwise would cost the county money it doesn't have.

Yew also briefed the board on the department's roaming ambulance unit that responds to calls across the area. Morris asked about the unit in terms of whether it could help the Strasburg Rescue Squad. Yew noted that the county had no staffed ambulance resources between Mount Jackson and Stephens City on Wednesday. The system became busy and the county had to call in resources from Frederick County. Any additional calls would have prompted a need for resources from Warren County, Yew said.

"This ambulance goes a long way in plugging those holes for us," Yew said.

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

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