Board puts off fire and rescue task force

Mary T. Price
Richard Walker
Cindy Bailey

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders will hold off on creating a task force to study fire and rescue needs, at least for now.

The Board of Supervisors decided Thursday to let the Shenandoah County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association’s advisory groups discuss their needs and concerns and report back at a future meeting.

County Administrator Mary T. Price presented a proposal to create a fire and rescue work group that would look at emergency response matters. The panel could consist of five representatives each from county government and the volunteer fire and rescue agencies. The committee also would include a resident from each of five or six areas of the county.

“So the objective here is to meet the community’s demand within a combination system,” Price said. “This process will start the communication and I believe is going to get us down the right path and we need to do this together, collectively, with our citizens and our volunteers.”

The task force would use reports, data and other information as well as input from the public to develop a vision and mission for the combination system of paid and volunteer responders. The committee’s meetings would be open to the public. Once the panel agrees on strategies it would present a final, written report to the Board of Supervisors that looks both at the short-term and long-term needs. However, the suggestion that the panel would need a paid facilitator did not sit well with at least one supervisor.

At least half the board voiced support for moving forward with the creation of the task force. But two supervisors questioned why the county would set up another committee if the volunteers already had an advisory group set up years ago to deal with the same matters. Some supervisors also claimed the county was not following an agreement reached years ago with the volunteers.

Supervisor Cindy Bailey asked why the county does not use the fire and rescue advisory group created some years ago. Gary Yew, chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue, explained that the advisory group, now made up of volunteer captains and chiefs, meets monthly and deals mostly with operational matters.

Richard Hockman, president of the volunteer association, said the advisory boards became inactive. All fire chiefs should meet and discuss any problems volunteers have, Hockman said. That’s not being done, he added. The need for the advisory boards are written in the association’s bylaws and in an agreement reached between the county and volunteers years ago, Hockman said.

Vice Chairman Richard Walker said it appears from people he’s talked to that the county hasn’t been following the agreement. Some “potential difficulties with the current situation” exist because they are contrary to the agreement, Walker added.

“I don’t know how worthwhile it is to create another think-tank when we’ve got an outline,” Walker said. “I think before we can say we want to change the makeup of what’s happening in Shenandoah County – a needs analysis would be helpful – but before we say we want to change it, I think we have to put into practice what we’ve already committed to.”

Walker narrowed the cause of problems between paid and volunteer responders to a lack of communication.

In response to a question from Chairman Conrad Helsley, Hockman said the advisory groups could work independently of the task force. Price said she had discussed the idea of creating the task force with the volunteers prior to the work session. The volunteers she had in mind to serve on the task force do not sit on the association’s advisory boards.

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

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