Fire station consolidation voted down

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders on Tuesday chose not to consolidate two volunteer fire companies after hearing pleas for and against the plan.

The board voted 3-1 against a motion to approve the plan to consolidate Rivermont and Fortsmouth volunteer fire companies within the next four years. Supervisor Tony Carter did not attend the meeting.

The action comes about three years after a consultant’s study recommended that the county consolidate the companies and build a new station. The Department of Fire and Rescue Services also recommended the consolidation.

Representatives of the companies and some residents in the communities they serve spoke at the public hearing held on the matter. Those in support of Rivermont did not necessarily agree that the county should also close Fortsmouth in the process. But supporters of Fortsmouth asked that the county not close the station.

Supervisor Archie Fox made the motion to consolidate but then sided with the opposition to consolidation when it came time to vote. Fox commented that he supported the idea of building a new fire station for Rivermont. Fox can bring back the motion in the future since he voted against it.

Supervisor Linda Glavis said she understood that Rivermont needs a new station but not at the expense of losing Fortsmouth.

“I think this board’s job is to protect the safety, health and welfare of all of our citizens of Warren County,” Glavis said. “It’s not our job to destroy what citizens [have built] like the Fortsmouth fire department. Fire departments aren’t buildings; they’re volunteers.”

Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr. said he felt the board was moving in the best interests of the county by looking at consolidation and building a new station.

Chairman Richard Traczyk, reading from a statement, said he couldn’t support consolidation. Traczyk noted that he recognized the performance problems inherent at Fortsmouth and the structural concerns of the Rivermont facility. However, Traczyk pointed out that to build a new station would cost $3 million and add to the county’s debt. Rather, the county could look at repairing the stations and giving other support to the entities.

The Department of Fire and Rescue Services Chief Richard Mabie and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico gave a presentation on the matter with their reasons in support of the proposal.

John Smith, representing Rivermont Volunteer Fire, asked the board to move forward on the proposal to consolidate. Charles Prince, the assistant chief and president, said it wasn’t their business to decide whether or not Fortsmouth should close.

Pat Cross, speaking on behalf of the Fortsmouth Volunteer Fire Company, noted that the organization members have worked to overcome some of the problems highlighted in a consultant’s study. Cross also presented a petition signed by more than 200 people urging the county to not close Fortsmouth.

Donna Turner Poe said the county needs to put paid responders in the Fortsmouth station. In doing so, the station’s ability to respond to emergencies would improve and likely could attract more volunteers.

A study conducted by the consulting firm, Springsted, found that the building used by Rivermont suffers from structural problems and significant staffing gaps in the early mornings on weekdays. Fortsmouth doesn’t always have enough volunteers to respond to emergencies. The study found Fortsmouth lacks enough members to take care of the station’s basic functions and suffers from staffing gaps.

Fire department officials recommended that the county consolidate the two stations into one facility and company to strengthen the coverage in the area and relieve some pressure felt at the North Warren Volunteer Fire Company. The proposal calls for the county to build a new station for the consolidated company on county-owned land on Stokes Airport Road.

A consolidated station would serve an area of more than 38 square miles, more than 2,300 addresses and 6,075 people.

Rivermont began operations in 1954, a year after the original station was built, and the company was incorporated in 1975. Changes in apparatus standards and technology have made the original design obsolete. Rivermont has 17 members, 15 of which live in the company’s first-due area.

Fortsmouth incorporated in 1978 and built its station in 1981. The company has made improvements in apparatus and station maintenance over the years. No paid staff serve out of the station. The company has eight responding members with one living in the response area.

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