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Effort to staff fire station revived, faces opposition

By Alex Bridges

Officials in Frederick and Shenandoah counties have renewed talks over staffing a volunteer fire station with paid firefighters.

But the effort to put responders in the Star Tannery Volunteer Fire Company station faces opposition from some Shenandoah County supervisors. At least two board members have questioned why officials for both counties would revive the issue only weeks after each county set fiscal 2015 budgets.

Earlier this year Frederick County representatives talked to Shenandoah County officials about a need to put paid firefighters in the Star Tannery station. The volunteer company operates in Frederick County but its service area spreads into Shenandoah County. Frederick County officials estimated the total cost to put two firefighters in each of three shifts at about $300,000 and suggested Shenandoah County cover half. Shenandoah County will give the station $30,000 for operational costs next fiscal year, so that could reduce its share to $120,000.

Shenandoah County Supervisor Marsha Shruntz attended a meeting Friday that included County Administrator Mary T. Price, Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass, Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson and Chief Gary Yew of the Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department. Frederick County representatives included County Administrator John R. Riley Jr., Shawnee District Supervisor Gene Fisher, who serves on the board's public safety committee, and Chief Dennis Linaburg, of the county Fire and Rescue Department.

Ferguson said Wednesday that Price will move ahead with setting up a committee to continue the discussion about staffing the station. The committee's meetings would be open to the public. Any recommendations would be forwarded to the full Board of Supervisors, Ferguson said.

"It doesn't mean we're going to do anything at this point but we felt it necessary that we at least explore what the needs are, how real the needs are, if this is where we would put firefighters if we had the choice," Ferguson said.

The chairman said the committee would also look at the situation in relation to the recent report on fire and rescue services in the county.

Fisher on Wednesday described the talks as positive but that representatives for each county did not reach any formal decision.

"It was kind of like if you could do something short-term that would be good and maybe look at it long-term and anything you could do -- we need to try to work together and really didn't push for any substantive answers," Fisher said.

Fisher recalled that it was suggested at the meeting that Frederick County may find a way to shift around funding in its already approved budget. Both boards would have to approve any funding request to staff the station.

"I think some of us feel there's definite needs there and we're going to have to do something," Fisher said. "Where we end up at this point is still up in the air."

In response to questions posed by Shenandoah County District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey about the meeting, Price said in an email that Riley initiated the meeting to resume discussions about the topic and to seek financial support from Shenandoah County.

The gathering did not constitute a public meeting that would require either or both counties to notify the public because no more than two members of either elected board attended. No other Shenandoah County supervisors were asked to join.

At the meeting, as representatives discussed the staffing issue, Shruntz said Ferguson directed the conversation toward her and sought her input. Shruntz recalled telling Ferguson and the group that she didn't see any way around the issue and that any funding request would need to go to the full board. Shruntz said at this point Ferguson appeared to put pressure on her to support the effort.

"[Ferguson] said 'I don't want any loss of life up in Star Tannery, not even one, so let's talk to Marsha about this,'" Shruntz recalled.

Ferguson said she may be referring to comments he made to her after the meeting regarding staffing at the station.

"I also made the comment until the public is ready to fund this, it's going to be very difficult to add personnel until they see the need," Ferguson recalled. "I did make the statement that I would hate for us to not to take any action until we had something as serious as loss of life that could have been prevented.

"But it had nothing to do with whether she would participate in it," Ferguson added. "That was a general statement made to the entire group."

In a May 17 email, Shruntz said she declined to be assigned to any committee that would change earlier decisions made by the board.

Bailey did not attend the meeting. In an email to Ferguson, Bailey called the meeting "an exercise in futility" because the board already had approved a budget that did not include funding for paid firefighters at the volunteer station. Bailey also criticized Ferguson "for the confrontational attitude you demonstrated and for attempting to intimidate one of our colleagues, conduct unbecoming in any setting but particularly so in the presence of county employees."

In a reply email to Bailey, Ferguson denied her accusations.

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

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