County may staff Strasburg squad

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County leaders on Thursday revisited Strasburg Rescue Squad’s request for help with staffing their station.

Since bringing their issue before the Board of Supervisors last month the rescue squad made strides to open their schedule and give volunteers more opportunities to serve during the week.

At the last work session squad representatives voiced concerns that the same volunteers served the weekends and could suffer burnout or leave the organization.

Squad President Shayla Wharton told the board at its work session that the organization opened up the schedule to volunteers because many of them have obligations on the weekend.

Chief Gary Yew, of the Department of Fire and Rescue, told the board that the rescue squad fulfills its obligation to staff volunteers on the weekends. However, Yew warned that the squad may not be able to sustain the effort.

Yew acknowledged that the squad’s work on its schedule should help the situation. But the chief continues to support the squad’s request for county help.

“I think to supplement and to create a healthier environment within the Strasburg Rescue Squad my recommendation was at the last meeting that we try to do what we can to meet the request by providing two additional career staff and go 24-7 at that station,” Yew said.

But Supervisor David Ferguson again noted his concern with the ongoing cost involved in hiring two, paid rescue workers to serve at the Strasburg station.

Ferguson asked Yew if he saw a future in which the county supplied paid staff to all 12 volunteer companies. Yew said he thinks fire and rescue services for the county would look different than it does currently.

Ferguson also asked if the county would address the need piecemeal as stations lose volunteers and add paid staff or if they should look at the overall situation.

Yew said the process of figuring out where the county department would need to fill in various stations and what the system would look like in the future began this past weekend.

The chief told the board the goal is to create a strategic plan through the Virginia Fire Services Board. The county has requested that the agency study staffing needs of fire and rescue services. The agency performs such studies at no cost to the county.

Strasburg Rescue Squad has 20 volunteers certified as emergency medical technicians, Beeler said. They can provide basic life support and can serve by themselves with a driver, she said. Active members must work 18 hours.

“We are doing it,” Wharton said. “There are times when we have weekends where it’s very rough.”

Board Chairman Conrad Helsley asked about volunteer numbers in the squad.

“The volunteers are holding steady,” Wharton said. “I don’t predict it going down. We’re trying to open up the duty roster. We might even get members back.”

Supervisor Dennis Morris said the squad should be commended for working on a possible solution and making an effort to fill the void.

“I personally would like to step up and help them,” Morris said. “But at the same time challenge them.”

“But I don’t think we can paint a rosy picture for the citizens of Shenandoah County,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson called the effort to provide paid staff to stations “a step backwards” from volunteerism. He warned again that hiring more paid staff would impose an ongoing cost.

Ferguson asked Budget Manager Garland Miller to present information on the estimated costs to the board at its next night meeting.

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli commented that many residents consistently say the county should not raise taxes.

Morris said he agreed with Ferguson on the volunteerism.

“I was blown away by the lack of people in a number of stations available to go on a call from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Morris said. “It’s scary. It all goes back to volunteers.”

But Beeler told the board the squad remains dedicated to serving the community.

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