Fire and Rescue could lose license

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors learned at its meeting that the Office of Emergency Medical Services in the Department of Health likely would not renew the volunteer organization's license to provide services. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County volunteer fire and rescue group could lose its state license to provide emergency medical services.

The Board of Supervisors learned Tuesday that state officials planned to let New Market Fire and Rescue’s license expire Friday after the organization’s volunteers failed repeatedly to comply with data reporting requirements.

After a plea from supervisors, the state officials agreed to give the volunteer organization 30 more days to comply with the license requirements. Supervisors also asked for the extension so the board can hold a meeting with representatives of the volunteer organization and New Market Town Council.

No one representing the volunteer organization attended the meeting.

County officials advised that a loss of the emergency medical services license would not cause a disruption in fire or EMS response service.

The board briefly discussed the matter in closed session. Members reconvened in open session and County Attorney J. Jay Litten disclosed the subject of that discussion – the local government’s responsibilities and legal rights pertaining to fire and rescue services, specifically in the southern area. Litten said there’s a concern that New Market Fire and Rescue is about to lose its state license to provide emergency medical services.

The board heard from Nazir Adam, the operational medical director for Shenandoah County, and Michael D. Berg, manager for regulation and compliance with the Office of Emergency Medical Services in the Department of Health. Gary Yew, chief of the county’s Department of Fire and Rescue, and Operations Chief Tim Williams also were at the meeting. The county’s EMS agencies operate under Adam’s licensure, Yew explained.

Supervisor Cindy Bailey voiced concern that she and possibly other board members first learned Tuesday the agency’s license would expire in four days. Yew said the county and state officials have been working with the volunteer group for months to bring them into compliance “with little cooperation from the agency.”

Berg told the board his office began working with the volunteer group on compliance issues as early as 2011, issuing notices of failing to do so on a few occasions. The agency, as of Tuesday morning, had not submitted data since December, Berg added. At one point his office noticed a “huge difference” between the numbers the agency reported to the state and those sent to the Lord Fairfax EMS Council.

The office also inspects the agency – personnel records, equipment and facilities – and gives some guidance but leaves it up to the organization to comply. An inspection performed earlier this year came up incomplete, Berg said.

The office advised the volunteer chief of the deficiencies in February, Berg said.

Supervisor Marsha Shruntz asked Berg if he felt the organization could step up and comply. Berg voiced doubt, noting the agency’s four-year history of non-compliance.

Berg said he and his office have talked with the agency’s leadership numerous times about the requirements.

“We do our very best to make sure the agencies do what they need to do,” Berg said. “We have, again, a history here and we’re just not obligated to renew the agency’s license.”

County Administrator Mary Beth Price noted a concern about the agency’s ability to hold a license in the future even if it complies. Adam said he likely would not issue a license to the organization even if it becomes compliant by state standards given the low number of emergency medical services calls to which the volunteers respond – six of the 1,800 last year, with paid staff taking the rest. The county has 14 paid responders assigned to the New Market station.

But the volunteers could remain in place at the station perhaps through an agreement with the county.

“We’re not saying the volunteers can’t still be an organization,” Adam said. “I think they need to be there. They’re part of that community.”

Bailey and Shruntz argued initially that they didn’t feel the board needed to go into closed session to talk about the matter if members spoke in general terms. Bailey voiced concern that neither she nor Shruntz received information on the topic prior to the meeting. Price said she sent a confidential email on the subject to board members July 21. Other members concurred they received the email.

The board voted 3-3 to go into closed session to talk about the matter with Ferguson siding with Bailey and Shruntz. Litten said the board could ask him or Price to take up the topic in open session. A motion to do so failed 3-3 with Bailey, Ferguson and Shruntz in support of the action.

Supervisors Steven Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese indicated they had knowledge of the topic beforehand.

“I think once you all hear the matter of this, you’re gonna be wishing it was done in closed session,” Neese said.

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