Community comes out in support of volunteers

Conicville and Orkney Springs area residents came out in force Wednesday to support two volunteer fire stations’ pleas for help.

Orkney Springs Fire and Rescue and Conicville Volunteer Fire Department continue to ask Shenandoah County for paid responders to assist with handling emergency calls in their communities.

The Department of Fire and Rescue assigned crews of paid responders to work out of the Conicville station in early December. The county department and the volunteer agency plan to look at the data after 30 days to see the impact paid staff made on the station’s ability to respond to emergency calls. The Board of Supervisors plans to hear from volunteers and county officials about the trial period at a work session Thursday.

Conicville and Orkney Springs volunteers held a public meeting Wednesday that drew dozens of residents from the community. Tarinda Showman, assistant chief for Conicville, said she estimated about 50 people attended the meeting. District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker, who represents the communities, also attended the meeting. Organizers distributed a joint letter explaining the situation and information on how to contact the members of the Board of Supervisors to urge the elected officials to support the volunteers’ requests for help.

“They know we need help and they’re the ones that need the help, the people that live in the Conicville area,” Showman said.

The volunteers recently met with Tim Williams, chief of the county department and, as a group, came up with some potential solutions that he plans to present to the supervisors, Showman said.

“Those proposals, one, is a solution we feel as a group … would fix our current staffing issues,” Showman said. “The other two will be temporary solutions and Band-Aids. The board has basically asked for some possible solutions so at this point our hands are really tied, and we just need to give them some options even though we don’t feel they are the proper solutions.”

A walk-in patient arrived at the Conicville station around 6:30 a.m. Monday, when no paid responders were assigned, Showman said. A crew from Orkney Springs took about 30 minutes to respond to the call for help at the Conicville station, Showman said.

Both groups have asked for additional personnel from the Department of Fire and Rescue over the last five years. The letter given out at the meeting points out that the Board of Supervisors consistently denied the request, citing a lack of funding.

A study conducted by the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, in conjunction with the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services, the Volunteer Fire Chiefs Association and the Virginia Volunteer Rescue Squad Association was presented to the Board of Supervisors in February 2015. The board reviewed the study but took no action on the report’s recommendations.

The letter notes that the board stored away the study knowing that residents in Conicville and Orkney Springs wait more than 30 minutes in some cases for responses to emergency situations. The agencies contend a 30-minute wait for emergency services is “unacceptable.”

“The volunteers of Conicville and Orkney Springs have worked diligently, to provide the necessary emergency response to their respected areas for the last 50 plus years; but now, more than ever need full time assistance,” the letter states.

The Board of Supervisors restricts the Department of Fire and Rescue from fully staffing both stations by not permitting the hiring of additional personnel, the letter goes on to state. The department has tried since 2013 to supplement current staffing with a crew that rotated between the two stations. This tactic only alternated delays and response failures between the two agencies, the letter notes.

The county department gained two responders in July 2015 when the Woodstock Rescue Squad hired its own personnel. The county assigned a 24-hour, Monday-Friday shift from Orkney Springs in a dual response with Conicville but that tactic failed to solve the problem, the letter notes.

“Orkneys’ unique response area makes it impossible to share staffing with any other agency,” the letter states. “They already have extended response times in their own jurisdiction with emergency transport times that exceed thirty minutes to any local hospital, thus showing the need for personnel in Conicville and Orkney respectively.”

“We need your help to illustrate to the SCBOS that their decisions are morally and ethically wrong and that emergency services are entitled to ALL county taxpayers,” the letter goes on to state.

The letter calls out Baker, Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese and Chairman Conrad Helsley as supporters of the effort to help the stations. At the same time, the letter notes that Vice Chairman Richard Walker and Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz are “adamant not to increase any tax rate, nor do they want to increase personnel to fire and rescue at county expense.”

The county employs 14 paid responders during the day, Monday through Friday. Staffing is reduced to 10 at night and eight on Saturday and Sunday. An additional nine responders would increase by four the number available for nights and weekends, the letter notes. The increase in personnel likely would cut response times to less than 10 minutes.

The cost to hire nine additional responders amounts to less than 2 cents on each $100 of the real estate tax, and the average taxpayer would see their bill increase by less than $40 per year, the letter states. An additional nine responders would give Conicville and Orkney Springs enough personnel to provide 24-hour coverage all week. Volunteers note that this tactic would eliminate the need for the county department to take paid responders away from other stations and thus cause delayed responses in other communities.

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