Fire officials mull next step after consolidation demise

The Warren County Board of Supervisors’ rejection of a proposed consolidation of the Rivermont and Fortsmouth fire stations has left Chief Richard E. Mabie searching for new ways to fix their deficiencies.

“To be honest, certainly we’re disappointed,” Mabie said as he reflected on the demise of the consolidation plan that he had backed for three years. “We had a lot of hard work that went into it. I think we’re going to have to sit back and regroup and decide where we want to go.”

Meanwhile, the Fortsmouth volunteer firefighters whose opposition sank the consolidation effort are also casting about for answers to their chronic recruitment problems.

Fortsmouth Fire Chief Terry Orndorff didn’t contest Mabie’s argument that Fortsmouth doesn’t have enough volunteers ready to answer calls.

“It has to do with recruitment and retention,” Orndorff said. “We’re all volunteers, and we work through the day like everybody else.”

The consolidation plan would have closed Fortsmouth and replaced the aging Rivermont station with a new facility at the intersection of Stokes Airport Road and Rivermont Drive.

The Rivermont service area includes the Rivermont and Otterburn areas. Fortsmouth answers calls in the Waterlick, Buckton and Lower Valley areas and a stretch of Va. 55 West that leads toward Strasburg.

Fortsmouth has been hobbled by its small force of 16 volunteers, only eight of whom are considered active. Of those eight, only one lives in the response area.

The volunteers struggle to get out and when they do typically respond, it’s driver only,  Mabie noted in a memo earlier this year. Their on time response rate for 2014 was 24 percent and non response rate was 47 percent with late (response) at 29 percent.”

Rivermont has more volunteers living in its response area, but its station dates back to 1954, which led Mabie to call for a new building in his consolidation plan.

Those lobbying to keep Fortsmouth open have called for paid career firefighters and EMTs to supplement the volunteer force. The hope is that one or more paid firefighters would improve emergency response time and encourage more people to volunteer.

“The next step is we need career staff,” Orndorff said, adding that he wanted to work with Mabie on boosting recruitment and retention.

Mabie said he doubted that adding career firefighters would solve Fortsmouth’s recruitment problems. Fire companies in many communities have struggled to recruit volunteers in recent years, but Mabie argues that Fortsmouth’s troubles are worse than most.

“The location of that station isn’t conducive to volunteers, and it hasn’t been for five years, and I don’t know how that’s going to change,” Mabie said. Rivermont and the North Warren companies are providing most of the service in the area. We just don’t feel it’s a good expenditure to put staffing there.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com