Volunteers work to improve station situation

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County volunteer fire and rescue station that lost a state license last year could use its ambulances again soon.

The Board of Supervisors heard an update from Gary Yew, chief of Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, on Tuesday regarding the efforts to help New Market Fire and Rescue regain its ability to provide certain emergency services to the area.

The lettering on two ambulances owned by the volunteers will be changed to reflect that they are operating under the license issued by the Office of Emergency Medical Services to the county, Yew said. The office also needs to re-inspect the vehicles.

“We don’t anticipate any problems there,” Yew said. “She just goes over the ambulances to make sure they are properly equipped and make sure they meet gross vehicle weight restrictions as set by the commonwealth.”

The chief said he anticipates re-lettering and inspection to be completed in the next couple of weeks and both ambulances will be back on the road. A new ambulance will be sent back to the vendor for re-lettering, Yew said.

“So we’re real close to getting the three ambulances back on the street,” Yew said.

Per an agreement reached between the county and the volunteers, Yew said the agency will operate under the county license. The volunteers will still receive reimbursement from the county, through the fee for ambulance service program, because the agency owns the ambulance, Yew explained.

New Market Fire and Rescue lost its emergency medical services license last year. Since then the volunteers and county officials have worked to try to regain the license. The county offered the volunteers the opportunity to operate under the department’s license but could not reach an agreement on the terms. In December, New Market Town Council took the rare step to replace the volunteer group’s chief Ronnie Smith and appointed Yew. The volunteer board had appointed Smith but a state code section allows the elected body to pick a chief. Yew has said he does not intend to stay on as chief permanently.

Earlier on the day of Yew’s appointment, the county pulled out its paid responders from the station and reassigned them to Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire. The county returned the paid crews to New Market shortly thereafter.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey asked Yew if the county needed an additional memorandum of understanding with the organization. An existing agreement the county has with volunteers dating back about 10 years satisfies the requirements, Yew said.

Volunteers will need additional training to become lead responders, referred to as precepting, on an ambulance call.

New Market Fire and Rescue will need to show the organization operates “in somewhat consistent fashion” to staff an ambulance with volunteers, Yew said. With training complete and a core of volunteers in place, New Market Fire and Rescue could apply to the state agency for its own emergency medical services license.

Chairman Conrad Helsley pointed out that the station needs more volunteers. But training is difficult for volunteers because they have family, jobs and other obligations that keep them busy, Yew said. Helsley asked about the working relationship between the volunteers and the paid responders.

“Operationally, it’s going extremely well,” Yew said. “Myself and the volunteer assistant chief Jamie Bowman communicate on a regular basis. The career staff and the volunteer staff are functioning very well together.”

Vice Chairman Richard Walker thanked Yew for providing information about the station.

“It showed a great, great deal more progress, both in terms of the New Market volunteers participation and their qualifications and I think that was very helpful to me and I think it would be helpful to the rest of the board ongoing precepting,” Walker said.

Yew said he intends to come back to the board next month to update members on the station’s progress.

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