Board asks for update on embattled volunteer station

WOODSTOCK – Some Shenandoah County leaders continued Tuesday to question the government’s role in a volunteer fire and rescue group.

The Board of Supervisors heard a report from Tim Williams, interim chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue, at its regular meeting. Following Williams’ report, Vice Chairman Richard Walker reminded the interim chief that the board recently discussed his appointment as leader of the New Market Fire and Rescue Department.

The county appointed Williams as interim chief following the retirement of Gary Yew, who also had served as leader of the volunteer New Market Fire and Rescue Department. New Market Town Council, which had appointed Yew as chief of the volunteers late last year, also named Williams as interim chief of the station.

“Have you taken that position?” Walker asked.

“I am the interim appointed chief of New Market,” Williams said. “I only assume that’s the way it is right now.”

“But you were appointed by them; you have formally accepted?” Walker asked.

“I don’t know that I’ve accepted it or declined it, sir,” Williams said.

Walker then said he sent Williams a copy of an email correspondence he had with County Attorney Jason Ham pertaining to the standard operating guidelines for the fire and rescue services. Walker pointed out that the guidelines provide that paid or “career” responders do not serve as volunteer members.

“Has that been changed?” Walker asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Williams said.

“Chief Yew and I talked about this a great deal and one of our concerns is that plan be put in place,” Walker went on to say. “Please be aware, I’m concerned that you are put in a position that is untenable and I don’t want that to happen, and as such that this board is also put in a position that may be untenable where we’re operating in violation with our agreements and our guidelines.

“I have no problem with your overseeing operations but I am concerned in regards to the New Market situation,” Walker added.

The supervisor also said he had asked Yew for updates on what was happening at the New Market volunteer station, specifically the agency’s efforts to have new recruits deemed as “precepts” who can respond to emergency calls.

The volunteer agency lost its license to operate its rescue equipment last year and, months later, the Town Council replaced its chief, who had been appointed by the department’s board of directors. The agency struggled to increase its ranks of volunteers certified to respond to calls.

Chairman Conrad Helsley asked Williams if the agency has recruited more people since Yew took over as chief of the volunteers earlier this year. Williams said the organization has accepted new members but he didn’t know that any volunteers have been certified as precepts.

Helsley recalled that the agency had one person classified as a precept with another suspended when Yew took over. Williams said as far as he knew the department has two emergency medical services providers who have taken the steps necessary to serve as precepts. Williams added that two more recruits plan to attend a class.

Williams receives a daily duty roster that shows what the volunteers can handle, Helsley said.

“At this current time I don’t think they have enough resources to put together a duty roster,” Williams said.

Walker said he would want Williams to encourage the volunteer organization to continue its recruitment efforts.

Helsley added that “our sole interest should be the public safety of the citizens of New Market.” Helsley noted that the volunteers have the responsibility of recruiting and training members.

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