MIDDLETOWN – Fire Chief Mark Dalton told Town Council members this week that Frederick County’s fire chief could become the leader of the county's 11 volunteer fire departments.
Dalton, reacting to a county study about the county's fire and rescue department’s operations, deployment and staffing, said Frederick County would have authority over how the volunteer department would spend the department’s funds, including the town’s share of funding and the donations that the department receives from fundraisers like its dinners and bingo night. The county would also have the ability to use volunteer department resources, such as equipment and fire engines.
Dalton said he has concerns with the report.
“I think it’s best for the citizens for Middletown to retain control of its fire and rescue company," Dalton told council members during the council work session on Monday.
He noted that the volunteers have run their town department since 1942. "It’s been a good way to do things,” he said, adding that he believes in a combination fire and rescue system.
"We need to look at and work toward better solutions," Dalton said.
Middletown Public Safety Committee members will be part of a joint meeting with Stephens City officials at 5 p.m. Monday at the Middletown Town Hall to discuss the report and its ramifications.
Frederick County Fire Chief Dennis Linaburg said in an interview that the study had been requested by the Frederick County Board of Supervisors in early 2017. The study, conducted by Fitch & Associates and completed in May, was prompted by the increasing difficulty of finding volunteers.
“There are not as many people volunteering, which means we have to hire more to offset the loss of volunteers,” Linaburg said.
The study recommends the structure of the county fire and rescue services be reconsidered to create a single fire chief. The organizational chart places the chief of a volunteer fire department below the rank of the Frederick County operations division deputy chief.
Dalton voiced concern that the report was generated after little input from the volunteer departments.
Monday night's information from Dalton was news to town officials and council members.
Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh said he was "obviously surprised." He had not read or heard about the study. He noted that “Chief Mark Dalton and Chief Shiley before him have done a wonderful job as chiefs of the Middletown Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. We couldn't ask for a better fire department.”
Harbaugh said it is his understanding that Stephens City's fire department is also well run and managed.
Financial problems were another reason why the study was undertaken. Volunteer departments are finding it more difficult to maintain financial soundness, Linaburg said.
The study looked at the fire stations in Frederick County, reviewing a lot of categories including finances, equipment, staffing levels and response times.
The study states that the average fire response time is 10.3 minutes, and the average EMS call is 10.1 minutes. The county, it notes, would need to look at relocating the 11 fire stations to lower that response time closer to 8 minutes.
The report provided several recommendations for each category.
To view the executive summary, download it here: www.fcva.us/home/showdocument?id=16030
Linaburg stressed that volunteer departments are doing a good job, but that there is always room for everyone to do better.