Chief: Situation improving at New Market station

Shenandoah County’s paid emergency responders returned to the New Market Fire and Rescue station just in time for the snowstorm last week.

The move came about a month after the county’s Department of Fire and Rescue reassigned the paid staff to the Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire station.

Department Chief Gary Yew said Wednesday the 14 responders returned Friday morning. Their return came at a good time because the storm made it difficult for many of the volunteers to make it to their stations countywide. In fact, the county department had to call back many of its off-duty responders to fill in at the stations. That included Conicville where the county does not currently assign paid responders.

Yew said he’s now working with Jamie Bowman, the volunteer assistant chief of New Market Fire and Rescue, to schedule a meeting with his officers and county staff to discuss the station’s future and who would take responsibility for managing the facility.

County officials are also in the process of creating a task force to look at the countywide needs for fire and rescue services. County Administrator Mary T. Price said recently that she plans to provide more information about the task force to the Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 4 work session.

The county took the action to remove the paid staff and reassign them to Mount Jackson after hearing concerns raised by personnel about the work environment. County officials have not disclosed what the specific concerns were. The same day, New Market Town Council voted at its regular meeting to replace the volunteer’s chief, Robbie Smith, with Yew. The volunteer agency’s board of directors had appointed Smith as chief. Council and its attorney, Jason Ham, who also represents the county, have cited state code that allows the elected body to select a chief for the volunteer agency.

Yew said after the reassignment and his appointment by the council that he intended to return the paid staff to the station. Yew indicated Wednesday that even his appointment by council as the volunteer chief is meant to be temporary.

“As I told the New Market Fire Department Board of Directors, our intent all along is that this is a temporary arrangement and until we get the organization back to the point they feel confident that they can manage themselves,” Yew said. “It was never the intent that this was a permanent relationship.”

The volunteer group has 22 members. Maeghan McAlexander became president of the board of directors last month after John Blosser, who also serves on the Town Council, resigned.

“I’ve been in contact frequently with Assistant Chief Bowman and everything up to this point has been going very well, no problems,” Yew said.

Last fall the volunteers lost their state license to provide emergency medical services. District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey said Wednesday she plans to make a motion to direct Price to work with Dr. Nazir Adams, operational medical director for the county, New Market volunteers and the state emergency management services director to reinstate the volunteers’ EMS license.

“The county verbally agreed to this, I am reminding them of their commitment and my support to see it completed,” Bailey states in an email. “I want this in writing and on the record.

“Furthermore, we have an agreement with New Market Volunteer Fire & Rescue to provide paid EMS staffing,” Bailey adds. “The county did not follow several key sections of that agreement. I have pushed the county (for several months now) to follow procedure and our agreement with the New Market Volunteers.”

Bailey states that the county had no credible reason to pull the paid staff out of the station.

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