Warren fire chief seeks ideas for Shenandoah Farms recruiting

By Joe Beck

Almost two months after a judge officially dissolved the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department, the station remains a headache for Warren County officials.

Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie said Wednesday improved service has made an important difference on several fire and ambulance calls since the countywide fire and rescue service assumed control of the station in mid-June.

But Mabie said he has been surprised and disappointed at the feeble response to his call for a new crop of volunteers to replace those removed during the county takeover.

He is planning a meeting for 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at the station at 6363 Howellsville Road to brainstorm ideas for what the county should do next about staffing. The options include reducing the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation to daytime hours five days a week.

Mabie is approaching the meeting with urgency.

“I just can’t get the message out enough that we need those people to come to the meeting,” he said of the community served by the fire station.

The station currently operates with two to four firefighters and emergency medical technicians, most of them career staff.

Mabie said the department has been able to recruit only four volunteers, one of them untrained, since the former staff was disbanded.

Three of the new recruits are previous volunteers at the station who passed background checks and were deemed untainted by accusations of dubious personnel practices and financial irregularities that swirled around the company for years before its demise.

Mabie said the department has taken a total of 12 volunteer applications since June.

“I wish I had an answer as to why there hasn’t been more interest in the community,” Mabie said, adding, “We feel the county has done its part.”

The county’s efforts to rehabilitate the station have gone beyond staffing it with career firefighters and EMTs. The county also has repaired and maintained equipment, prepared the station to house new volunteers and held an open house to pique community interest, Mabie said.

None of it has worked.

“We just don’t have the people in the community willing to invest the time and effort to volunteer there,” Mabie said.

Former Shenandoah Farms fire chief Harlin (Buddy) Cook said at the time of the takeover that he had doubts about how long the county could keep paid staff at the station.

But Mabie said he was encouraged at the time by comments he heard from nearby residents that led him to believe new volunteers would quickly step forward to staff the station and replace the career personnel who were only supposed to be there a short time.

Instead, the county is paying $25,000 to $30,000 a month to maintain the station with the career staff and no end in sight.

Mabie said an extra fire service tax for Shenandoah Farms might allow career staff to remain at the station permanently.

Whether through a tax to pay for career staff, more volunteers, reduced hours of operation or a combination of those options, the community must choose, Mabie said.

“This really is the bottom line: What are you willing to pay to have coverage at that fire station?” Mabie said. “I think it’s going to come down to the community driving this thing.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com