County pulls fire staff from Shenandoah Farms

By Alex Bridges

Warren County plans to cut back on staffing the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department while it pushes recruitment.

Department of Fire and Rescue Services Chief Richard Mabie said Thursday the low number of emergency calls in the Shenandoah Farms area prompted county officials to reconsider keeping paid staff at the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station at 6363 Howellsville Road receives an average of one call per day. Mabie said.

The county department could cut on staffing the station to five days a week beginning as early as Nov. 18, Mabie said.

Paid personnel would staff the station during the day.

“We’ll just allow the few volunteers that we have to fill in those other gaps,” Mabie said.

The county spends $30,000 a month to run three shifts that brought the station to 24-7 coverage, Mabie said. Cutting back to five days a week with one shift and two people, saves the county $20,000.

“If we had a call volume of something like five, six, seven, eight a day in there I think the decision would’ve been a little harder to make and I tell you I doubt seriously [the Board of Supervisors] would have cut back,” Mabie said.

The chief noted that all emergency calls, even one per day, are important and could be a house fire or cardiac arrest. He added that “the numbers speak for themselves.”

The county department took over the station after it dissolved the volunteer organization and seized its assets in mid June. Since then, the county department has supplied paid firefighters and emergency medical technicians for the company 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The county department also made some renovations to the station, repainted the outside, removed outdated supplies and equipment.

But the county also has reached out to the community in an effort to recruit volunteers. The department held a recruiting drive and an open house at the station as the county tried to rebuild the company.

While the county found several people willing to help with the administrative tasks at the station, they’ve only recruited five volunteers trained to respond to fires, Mabie said. Only one of the volunteers recruited has training in emergency medical services and can ride as an attendant on an ambulance, he explained.

Finding volunteers trained or willing to train as both firefighters and rescue workers remains a priority. Training for emergency medical services requires at least 100 hours in the classroom and 16 hours in the vehicle operator’s course.

“This isn’t the end of the saga by any means,” Mabie said.

The chief said the decision to dissolve the company and staff the station with paid personnel came after the Board of Supervisors had approved the fiscal budget. How the department plans to balance its budget at the end of the year after spending money on extra staff remains unknown, Mabie said.

Staffing the station 24-7 has cost the department $120,000-$130,000 in salaries so far this fiscal year, Mabie said. The chief estimated it would cost the department approximately $360,000 to keep paid staff in the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the entire fiscal year.

“We’re not sure where that money’s gonna come from,” Mabie said.

Some of the funds would come from the company’s assets the county seized, he said.

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