Board hears Conicville’s request for first responders

WOODSTOCK – Conicville area residents renewed their plea Tuesday to Shenandoah County leaders for more emergency responders.

But at least half the Board of Supervisors indicated at their work session on the fiscal 2018 budget that they needed more justification before they could support the request. A couple of supervisors tried to allay residents’ fears by explaining that the board plans to hold more work sessions prior to the April 6 public hearing.

The board’s discussion of the Department of Fire and Rescue’s proposed budget turned heated and emotional when a few Conicville residents criticized supervisors for not budgeting more firefighter/emergency medical technicians for the station.

Chief Tim Williams’s request includes funding for 50 paid firefighters/emergency medical technicians, two of which the board funded in the current budget using money from the contingency fund. The two new firefighters would begin working in April, Williams said. However, the county would need to hire seven more firefighters to allow the Conicville Volunteer Fire Department and Orkney Springs Fire and Rescue to provide 24-7 coverage for the western area. County Administrator Mary T. Price’s recommended budget does not include funding for the additional firefighters.

“The only way that we’re going to be able to assist Conicville beyond what we’re doing now is to add staff,” Williams told the board.

Even with the two additional firefighters the department has to use part-time or pay personnel overtime to fill a 20-hour gap in service in Conicville, Williams added.

District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker repeated his request that the board find a way to fund the additional seven firefighters.

Tarinda Showman, president of the Conicville Volunteer Fire Department, reiterated the organization’s request to fund enough firefighters/EMTs to provide 24-7 service at the station. Showman provided data on responses to emergency calls and pointed out that in one instance it took firefighters from Conicville 40 minutes to respond.

The county needs to move forward with the concept of a working group of volunteers, officials and residents to address fire and rescue matters, Vice Chairman Richard Walker said. The county approached the idea last summer but the board did not create the task force, as District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey noted. Williams said he supports the concept but advised that the community needs help sooner.

“That problem is not going to go away,” Williams said.

Baker echoed the concern about trying to create a task force when the station needs immediate help.

Showman asked the board several times what she needed to provide to show the need exists for more responders. The organization has presented its call volume to the board for three months, Showman said. She noted that the 40-minute response to a call came from out of the station’s service area because Orkney Springs failed to respond. Baker said this incident illustrates a need for more responders to help the entire western corridor. Showman voiced concern that she would leave the meeting and the board might not address the situation for another year.

The board needs to know the level of volunteer participation for each organization before supervisors can devise a plan to help the station, Walker said.

“I know that you all needed help and that’s why I supported restricting the two additional people to being in your (station),” Walker said. “Do I feel it’s worth another half-a-million dollars to have you all staffed 24-7 by professional staff, I don’t right now see it and I have to look at different ways of doing it to be able to handle it on a financially responsible basis.”

Showman asked the board for a recommendation on how Conicville should operate given its situation. Bailey deferred to Williams. Price pointed out that protocols for emergency responders are in place.

“I want to know how many people’s gotta die before you all decide to do something,” one woman in the audience interjected. “I’m sorry. I cannot sit here and keep my mouth shut any longer.”

Walker commented that the board was not holding a public hearing in which people could speak. Chairman Conrad Helsley reminded the audience not to speak out.

Later in the discussion, Bailey and District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz told the audience that the board is continuing to deliberate on the budget and has more work sessions before the public hearing so members have not yet made a decision. However, Bailey added that at this time she supports only the two firefighters as included in the proposed budget.

Walker cited comments Baker made that community residents say they would pay for more firefighters. Walker pointed out that Woodstock Rescue Squad has its own paid staff. Using that example, Walker suggested that Conicville could hire a responder if it raised the money. Price explained that the Woodstock agency has the call volume that allows the squad to pay for its responders. Price said she didn’t think Conicville could afford to do the same.

“If we could afford it we would have already done it,” Showman said.

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