Station’s housing remains unsettled

County, volunteer fire department still negotiating on proposed deal

By Alex Bridges

A deal between Shenandoah County and a volunteer fire department over housing responders remains up in the air.

County officials and the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department’s attorney said Thursday that both sides want to reach an amicable agreement.

The volunteer organization’s leaders met earlier this month but did not agree with the deal approved by the Board of Supervisors in August. The organization’s President Greg Wakeman wouldn’t comment Thursday on the proposed agreement but instead referred questions to the organization’s attorney, Paul J. Neal Jr.

Neal sent a letter to County Administrator Mary Beth Price on Wednesday, stating concerns his clients have with the deal and his suggested changes to the agreement.

“I don’t think there’s anything in there that comes across as unreasonable,” Neal said Thursday. “But, if there is, the fire department wants to make this work and I’m sure the county does too, so hopefully we can get it done.”

The Board of Supervisors must again discuss the agreement and consider changes suggested by Neal and the volunteer organization. Meanwhile, county building code official says no firefighters can sleep in the current living quarters set up in the station after Oct. 31. Firefighters can still work out of the building, Neal said.

Firefighters currently sleep on beds in an office inside the station because the quarters upstairs does not meet fire and safety requirements, but that area does not have a door that leads outside the building.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass and Fire and Rescue Department Chief Gary Yew said Thursday that parties continue to work together on the agreement.

“Negotiations are still on,” Vass said. “I think all parties hope that we can continue to house career staff there for the foreseeable future in a compliant way with building code.”

Yew concurred with Vass.

“It’s always been the priority of us and the Toms Brook Fire Department that absolutely [we do] everything we can maintain [to] service delivery in a timely fashion and to stay in their facility, and we’re just going to keep working toward … those two goals,” Yew said.

In August the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with the volunteer group that called for the county to give the organization approximately $95,000 to cover the cost to set up a living quarters for paid and volunteer firefighters in the station.

However, the organization took issue with a provision in the deal that would require a lien be placed on the property. A lien would make it more difficult for the volunteer group to borrow money to buy a new fire vehicle, Neal said. A bank would require a deed of trust on the property before it approved the loan, Neal explained.

“They just have a philosophical problem with putting a deed of trust on the property,” Neal said.

The attorney said the $95,000 renovation would not increase the market value of the building and not benefit the organization in the unlikely event they decide to sell the property.

In his letter, Neal suggests that:

  • The county build the sleeping quarters as planned.
  • The volunteer department enters the agreement to allow the county’s paid responders to use the area for five years with an option to extend that period another five years.
  • The county reimburse the volunteer group for additional costs to heat and cool the building for paid responders who stay there.
  • The county assign an official to handle issues that arise at the station.
  • The county waive the station’s water and sewer bills.
  • The agreement grant the county’s right to occupy the space for 10 years regardless of who holds title to the property.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or