New chief: Paid responders could return

The head of the Shenandoah County agency that pulled paid responders from the embattled New Market Fire and Rescue now also leads the volunteer group.

The Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department pulled its 14 career staff from the New Market station on Monday. Later that night, New Market Town Council voted unanimously to appoint Gary Yew as the chief of New Market Fire and Rescue Inc. Yew also works as chief of the Shenandoah County agency.

“At this point it’s still, as I told council members last night, our goal is to work just as hard as we can to keep it a community, volunteer fire and rescue organization and create an environment that is conducive for the volunteers,” Yew said Tuesday. “We still want, desire and encourage active volunteer participation.”

The move by council could lead to the county returning the paid responders to the New Market station.

“Ultimately that’s our goal,” Yew said. “We certainly have never had a desire to have them displaced from the community any longer than we absolutely have to.”

Representatives for the county department, New Market and the volunteer agency will likely continue to discuss the situation with the paid responders, Yew said.

The county department pulled the paid responders from the New Market station and reassigned them to work out of Mt. Jackson Rescue and Fire’s facility approximately 8 miles away. Operating out of the Mount Jackson station would likely increase the time it takes for a crew of paid responders to get to a call in New Market.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Yew said. “Potentially there could be a couple-minute delay as opposed to having career staff right there in the New Market station.

“But, because of the (emergency medical services) activity level, so frequently we were not able to staff an engine at the New Market station anyway,” Yew added. “So that was always a challenge for us and something we’d always hoped to overcome.”

In the meantime, Yew said his agency worked with Rockingham County to enhance coverage to the New Market station’s response area. A large portion of the New Market station’s service area lies in Rockingham County, Yew said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Mayor Douglas Bradley referred questions and requests for comments on the council’s action to Town Manager Mike Ritchie. Bradley said council agreed that Ritchie should serve as the single point of contact. Ritchie offered the following comment on the matter via email: “After consulting with the Town Attorney in closed session the Town Council felt it would be in the best interest of the community to effect a change in leadership at New Market Fire & Rescue and therefore voted to appoint Chief Yew as the Fire Chief.”

Vice Mayor John Blosser, who serves as chairman of the board of directors for New Market Fire and Rescue, did not return a call for comment regarding the volunteer organization’s role, if any, in the decision to replace Chief Robbie Smith with Yew.

Ritchie after the meeting cited a Virginia code section that gives the elected leaders of any locality in which a fire company operates the responsibility of appointing the chief of such an agency. Yew replaced Robbie Smith as chief who came under fire several months ago when New Market Fire and Rescue tried unsuccessfully to renew its state license to provide emergency medical services and operate the associated equipment. It was unclear Tuesday if council also had previously appointed Smith as chief or if the board of directors of the volunteer organization took that action.

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