Fire chief says more responders needed

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s Fire and Rescue Services Department leader says cutting his budget could hurt, especially since the agency needs more responders.

A county supervisor asked Chief Richard Mabie this week if he could reduce spending next fiscal year. Mabie said he would if requested but advised that the department budget goes through several cuts and revisions before the proposal comes up for consideration by the Board of Supervisors.

The department likely also needs additional emergency responders, Mabie hinted.

The Board of Supervisors recently started using work sessions to hear from department heads about current budgets months ahead of the board’s discussion over next year’s spending plans.

“Is there something in here that we can cut? Absolutely,” Mabie posed. “You know as well as I do there are things in here that I would like to cut because it’s always a cost.”

However, County Administrator Doug Stanley pointed out that the department can’t eliminate large-ticket items without needing to cut personnel.

“And the problem is – and I know you’re not going to want to probably hear is – we need more positions,” Mabie said.

The department budget for fiscal 2017 includes $2.24 million to cover personnel costs. Salaries for firefighters and emergency medical technicians total $1.23 million. The budget for personnel costs also includes $150,000 to cover overtime – an expense deemed inevitable by many fire and rescue departments.

The department needs to curtail overtime spending, Stanley admitted. The department spent $231,000 and $260,000 in previous years. The budget includes “built-in” overtime because of the agency’s schedule, Stanley added. Certain calls for service can further push overtime spending, he noted.

The department also spends money on salaries for personnel injured on the job, Mabie explained. While workers compensation covers some of the cost, the department pays the rest, he said.

Shenandoah District Supervisor Thomas Sayre asked about the Line-of-Duty Act item, for which the department budgeted $12,000. The department must budget a certain amount to cover benefits for the survivors of emergency personnel who die in the line of duty, Mabie and other supervisors explained. Mabie called the item an unfunded mandate that the state once covered but has since passed on to localities.

Sayre said that the state likely covered the Line of Duty Act benefits until the expense grew. Stanley pointed out that the number of emergency responders has increased greatly in the past 20-30 years.

The county picks up the cost for certain office supplies used by the volunteer stations, Mabie said. Likewise, the department budget includes funding to cover maintenance on vehicles, he added.

Only two of the volunteer stations, he said, own their equipment. The rest of the stations have given their fire and rescue vehicles to the department to operate under the county’s emergency medical services license. The 10-year project to shift stations to the county’s license takes some of the financial burden off the volunteer agencies, Mabie said.

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