WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County supervisors adopted a strategic plan to combine fire and rescue services throughout the county on Thursday night — moving volunteer departments throughout the county under one roof.
The plan lays out a handful of goals, including recruitment and retention; organizing the new partnership between departments by creating a leadership committee and training new members.
Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Chief Tim Williams will serve as the head of the newly combined organization. He said he thought that coming together under a single roof was a good thing for the volunteers and only served to help them and the community.
“Right now, with fire and rescue there’s no one central plan, so we are a reactive organization,” Williams said. “We simply react to the next issue that comes up. This puts us in a proactive stance.”
In the past, any operations issue one of the departments ran into — and the solutions they came up with — needed to go through the chiefs and captains group before going to the volunteer association. Eventually, Williams said, the solution would come back to the department and be put in place.
Now, the chiefs and captains are separate from the volunteer association with each handling different pieces of business and Williams sitting in the middle.
Mary Frances Crisman, volunteer fire rescue association president, said there is a clear chain of command for both groups, with Williams at the top.
“We are one system,” Crisman said. “He will be the fire chief...the chiefs and captains will have their say. We will have our meetings still.”
Passing the strategic plan, which Crisman said she has been working on for 12 years to do, has not been an easy venture.
District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker urged the supervisors to table the decision for the plan until every department could sit around a table and agree on it.
“I know I would like to see the strategic plan actually represented and debated and accepted by 100 percent of our volunteer departments,” Walker said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate, especially with the changes in organization, without that [debate] and some of the alternatives to the changes in organization being discussed.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley told Walker and the other supervisors he had been at every meeting and said he believed there was ample opportunity for everyone to have their voices heard.
“I attended all the meetings, and every department was invited,” Helsley said. “Every department was invited to come and participate. Most of them did; some of them did not.”
Walker said he didn’t feel the working group that created the strategic plan was inclusive enough. Though all members were invited, Walker said, there were a handful of departments that either did not send representatives or their representatives did not speak up during the meetings.
If some groups didn’t want to attend the planning sessions or didn’t feel comfortable participating, Walker said, the county should be asking why not everyone decided to be involved.
Walker said his No. 1 concern was that the plan states retention and recruitment as the No. 1 goal but, he said, there isn’t anything more planned than “hiring someone at the county to do that.”
County Administrator Mary T. Price pointed to the plan and said that is what the committee outlined in the strategic plan is for.
Williams said the only piece of the strategic plan not already moving forward was the retention and recruitment committee, which he needed the approval of the plan by the Board of Supervisors to get started on.
Williams said volunteers and career staff would make up the retention and recruitment committee. Once the volunteers form the committee, it will appoint a county staff member to serve with them.
As volunteers begin to roll out the new plan, some flexibility to the plan is expected.
District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris told Walker he would share some of the same concerns if the strategic plan was “set in stone.” However, he said, the document is serving as a roadmap for where the fire and rescue department wants to go.
“This is going to be a workable, livable plan that the chief and captains will tweak. They can take away, they can add to, or all the above,” Morris said. “This is not set in stone. This gets the volunteers involved. Every company needs to be involved, and that’s something we’re going to encourage.”
Similar action is occurring north of Shenandoah County. Frederick County Fire Chief Dennis Linaburg told The Northern Virginia Daily this week that Frederick County is also working on a plan to bring volunteer firefighters together under a single fire chief.