County relocating paid firefighters out of station

Toms Brook fire chief Jason Shipe talks on his phone inside the fire house on Wednesday. Shipe said his department would have a prepared statement to release this week regarding the county's decision to move career staff from Toms Brook's fire station. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah County moved its paid emergency workers out of the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department this week after a deal over housing at the station fell through.

County officials announced Wednesday that they plan to reassign the seven paid responders to the administration building at 600 N. Main St., Woodstock, citing the “recent impasse in negotiations” with the volunteer organization.

Following the impasse, officials presented a proposal to the organization asking they allow the county to reassign the employees to 10-hour shifts at the station, according to information from the county. Organization leaders considered the alternative proposal but then asked county officials to “vacate the station” and remove staff and equipment, including one ambulance, by Thursday.

Chief Jason Shipe, of the volunteer group, told the Northern Virginia Daily that the group would issue a statement in the near future but members of the organization would not comment Wednesday. Woodstock attorney Paul J. Neal Jr. has represented the organization and noted Wednesday that it appeared the parties were close to reaching a deal.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass said the plan stands for the time being.

“But this also allows us a greater flexibility … in terms of delivering public safety, not only in this end of the county but throughout the county,” Vass said. “The other thing to add to that is public safety is a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year business and so, simply taking the crew and saying ‘well, until we find quarters for you we’re just not going to have a response presence’ then this isn’t an option from a public safety perspective.”

Whether or not the county plans to bring the volunteer group’s representatives back to the table for negotiations remains uncertain. The matter has not been placed on the agenda for today’s supervisors work session.

“I think the door is always going to be open for any talks, regardless of what the subject matter may be, and there’s never a closed door,” Vass said. “It remains to be seen where talks go, but we’ve adapted to the circumstances that have developed.”

The volunteer fire department recently endorsed the latest version of an agreement with the county that called for renovations to the station – new living quarters separated for men and women, a kitchen and shower area. The county was housing paid responders in an office in the station equipped with beds after building officials determined the existing living area did not meet safety standards. Under the proposal, the board would give the organization $95,000, already included in the county budget, to spend on the project. Supervisors voted 4-2 on Nov. 25 against a motion to endorse the proposal and to execute the agreement. The motion included the original plans with the full set of proposed improvements.

Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz voted to approve the motion. Board Chairman David Ferguson, who presented the proposal endorsed by the volunteer group, Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese voted against it.

Staff in the county administration and the Department of Fire and Rescue made the decision to reassign the responders, Vass said.

The volunteers would have rarely needed to use the proposed new living quarters, kitchen or showers, because the station has a commercial kitchen and bathrooms, Neal has said. Volunteers also live close to the station. Neal said he felt Ferguson wanted the county to build the “bare minimum” for the station.

“I appreciate what Mr. Ferguson did and they came a long ways down from where they started and they removed a lot of objectionable features, you know the deed of trust and things like that,” Neal said. “I guess we’re just apart on that one issue [scope of the improvements] and that’s the issue that takes it out of the park.”

The board of the volunteer group met Tuesday night and its members voiced frustration with the ongoing process.

“There’s no hard feelings and certainly the [volunteer] fire department appreciates the county’s efforts,” Neal said.

Shruntz, whose district covers the Toms Brook area and who supported more than one version of the proposed agreement, issued a statement in an email Wednesday. Shruntz called the move a “sad decision” and said she felt concerned for the residents of the 5th District. She went on to state that county Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew assured her that squads from Strasburg and Woodstock would adequately service the residents of District 5, but response times would need to be monitored.

“I intend to do all I can to see to it that our area is well served,” Shruntz added. “The fact that the Fire hall and it’s assets (over 2 million dollars) remain in tact was ‘THE’ issue. The volunteers have been fighting for their survival and they stood their ground. I pray the county will step up in a effort to provide EMT service to all the taxpayers in Toms Brook.”

In an email, Bailey stated “I recommend we change the 10 hour crew to 12 hours and the 24 hour crew to 12 hours. This will eliminate the need for sleeping quarters. I have asked that Chief Yew be prepared to talk about this next Tuesday morning.”

Helsley was unavailable for comment.

The county Department of Fire and Rescue plans to:

• Reassign ambulance crew previously working 24-7 shifts at the Toms Brook facility to the same shifts and support fire and rescue needs throughout the county, including the Toms Brook area, while stationed at the Government Center in Woodstock.

• Assign a 10-hour ambulance crew to work 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday, from the Government Center. County administration and the Fire and Rescue Department will evaluate other possible locations to house these crew members within the Toms Brook area.

At a glance

Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue

42 full time county paid staff. Career staff are emergency medical technicians as well as firefighters.

Approximately 300 volunteers at 11 separate fire and rescue companies.

• The county covers 500 square miles with 11 stations. There are two responders assigned per shift to six stations and four assigned to a station in New Market. Paid staff assigned to stations are certified as emergency medical technicians and as firefighters.

• This year the county has dispatched approximately 1,300 calls from the Toms Brook station, 76 percent of which were for emergency medical calls and 47 percent originated from the “first due” area of the facility, with the remaining 53 percent sent to support other stations, including Woodstock Fire and Strasburg Rescue.

Current Staffing

Station 23 New Market, four-member crew per per shift, staffed 24/7.

Station 21 Mount Jackson, two-member crew per shift, staffed 10 hours Monday – Friday.

Station 18/13 Orkney Springs-Conicville, two-member crew per shift, staffed 10 hours Monday – Friday. The two man crew rotates on a weekly basis between two stations.

Station 5 Woodstock Rescue, two-member crew staffed per shift, staffed 10 hours Monday – Friday.

Station 25 Strasburg Rescue, two-member crew per shift, staffed per shift, 24/7.

Ambulance 9-1 Woodstock, two-member crew per shift, staffed 10 hours Monday – Friday.

Ambulance 10-1 Woodstock, two-member crew per shift, staffed 24/7.

Information provided by Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue


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