By Alex Bridges
A merger of two volunteer fire companies in Warren County seems likely.
The Department of Fire and Rescue Services along with other county officials continue to discuss consolidation of the Rivermont and Fortsmouth Volunteer Fire Departments into one organization and crew. Both stations lie to the west of Front Royal, with Rivermont south of the Front Royal-Warren County Regional Airport and Fortsmouth in the area of Fort Valley.
Chief Richard Mabie, of the county agency, said Thursday the idea has support as it moves forward through the planning process. The county and the companies have been discussing the issue for more than a year.
"We kinda figured it's a tough thing to give up your fire department where you are," Mabie said.
But the aging Rivermont station at 714 Rivermont Drive needs to be replaced soon, Mabie said. The Fortsmouth station at 53 Lower Valley Road wouldn't be too far behind, Mabie said. In addition to needing new buildings, Mabie said both stations are seeing their volunteer numbers decline. Rivermont has 10-12 responders while Fortsmouth has four or five, Mabie said.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley said work is underway on a memorandum of understanding that would outline the merger process, the construction of a new station and the closure of Fortsmouth. Stanley explained that the new station would be built on approximately five acres of property owned by the county at the northeast corner of Rivermont Drive and Airport Road.
Mabie estimated the cost of a new station at $2 million to $2.5 million.
The county would cover the cost to build the station and then maintain the facility, Mabie said. The volunteer company would operate out of the station.
"We're kinda hoping that if we centralize things a little bit, we combine both stations then both stations combine will give us a properly operating volunteer station," Mabie said. "Plus it replaces the old one that needed it and I don't think you'll find that any of our stations out here can really afford to build a $3 million fire house now. That's probably a good price."
The county would set up the new station in a similar way as the facility built for the North Warren Volunteer Fire Department. However, with North Warren, the business community and residents helped the county to financially support the construction of the station. The fire company paid off the debt owed on the project and the station was deeded to the county for ongoing maintenance. The volunteer organization staffs the North Warren station.
In the case of a merged Rivermont and Fortsmouth company, without the same amount of industrial and business support in the area of the two stations, the county would build the facility, Mabie said. The companies would occupy the building but Mabie said he didn't see a situation in which the merged group would repay the county for the cost of building the station.
The county already provides some funding to the two companies, Mabie said. The county would save money by only having one station to fund, he noted. The county could use the savings to help pay the debt on the building, Mabie said.
Representatives for both companies and county officials met recently and unanimously adopted a formal motion to move forward on the merger, Mabie recalled.
"So I think you're going to see this project pick up some more momentum now and begin to move forward," Mabie said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com