New Market fire chief calls county offer unfair

New Market Fire and Rescue’s chief says Shenandoah County’s offer to bring the agency under a state license came with strings attached.

The condition that volunteers hand over ownership of its emergency medical services vehicles to the county didn’t sit easy with the agency’s leaders, Chief Robbie Smith said Wednesday. The county department “wanted to take over everything” in the station, Smith claimed.

The volunteer organization failed to come to an agreement with the Department of Fire and Rescue that would allow New Market Fire and Rescue to provide emergency medical services under the county’s state-issued permit. The county made the offer in response to news that the volunteer agency would likely lose its permit next month.

“I’m still gonna beat the bush down to see what we can do, if anything,” Smith said. “We’ve done what we were supposed to, that we were asked to do, other than getting the approval from the doctor.”

Contrary to information made public last week, the volunteers did not agree to relinquish its EMS license. Volunteers did agree to continue to work with the county and state licensing officials to resolve the matter, Smith said.

John Blosser, president of the organization’s board of directors, said in a letter last week and to the Daily that the agency had agreed to relinquish its EMS license and to allow the county to bring the volunteers under its license. Smith said the board of directors had not made that decision.

The volunteer board of directors met Aug. 16 to discuss the situation. Smith had a different recollection of the board’s actions.

“The only decision we made at that board meeting was to look into – and I emphasize that – look into information going under Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue EMS license,” Smith said. “We never decided to do that. We never decided to do anything.”

Volunteers considered that option as a back-up plan in case the agency could not satisfy the state’s requirements to renew its license, Smith added.

In response to statements that he didn’t support the proposal, Smith said he was one of nine members of the volunteer’s leadership who didn’t want to move forward with the county’s offer.

“There’s been no reach out to me, period, from the county Board of Supervisors other than … Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz,” Smith said. “As far as my supervisor, Dick Neese, I’ve never even talked to him.”

The agency resolved the problem with its reporting of response data as required under the license, Smith said. The organization also updated its policy on drug and alcohol use to reflect changes made at the state level, he added. The agency is awaiting approval by the state of its new policy.

However, even after rectifying the outstanding problems, Smith noted the operational medical director has indicated he will not renew the license. Smith said he is waiting for information from the state as to why the operation medical director will not renew the license.

“As it looks now, if the OMD doesn’t sign off on it – but we have until Sept. 11 – we will not be an EMS agency,” Smith said. “However, we’ll still provide fire suppression.”

The agency’s leadership likely will hold more meetings to discuss the situation and their options, Smith said.

“The way it looks I don’t think we’re going to get renewed,” Smith said. “The county’s got involved and they want to take over the show and I guess they’ll get it if they want it.”

But the volunteer board could still accept the county’s offer and its terms, Smith added.

If the agency loses its EMS license, the county would need to provide the services for New Market Fire and Rescue. Recent data shows the county department already handles most, if not all, of the New Market EMS calls, though the volunteers do participate in those responses. The county supplies 14 paid staff, cross trained as firefighters and emergency medical technicians, to the station.

However, as Smith explained, the volunteer organization provides the EMS equipment the paid staff needs, including ambulances as well as the building itself. The county does provide some EMS supplies at the station and budgets financial contributions to the agency. The volunteers are reimbursed for mileage put on their vehicles as they respond to calls.

The volunteer agency has 14 members who can respond to emergencies, Smith said. Of that number, 8-10 are certified as emergency medical technicians who can assist with emergency medical services, Smith said. Other volunteers handle administrative and behind-the-scenes duties. Volunteers must undergo a lengthy training process to receive certification. Most of the volunteer responders are cross-trained in fire suppression and EMS, Smith said.

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