WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County’s chief fire official said this week that recruitment efforts continue to attract emergency response volunteers for area companies.

Chief Tim Williams gave a progress report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday on the Department of Fire and Rescue’s strategic plan, which includes a goal of recruiting and retaining volunteers and career or paid responders. 

Williams took over the department in September 2016 after Chief Gary Yew retired. Williams said he wanted to create a strategic plan for countywide fire and rescue services. He started thinking about a plan not long after he joined the department in 2005 as the operations section chief.

"Unfortunately, the recession jumped upon us and after that, we kind of migrated to being a reactionary organization," Williams recalled. "We were not proactive.

"So I wanted to change that around and what we really and truly needed in fire and rescue was a direction, a plan," Williams said.

He pursued the creation of a strategic plan with input from the volunteers rather than hire a consultant.

"The strategic plan looks at and utilizes the internal forces to help develop your future," Williams said. "I will tell you that fire and rescue has a whole lot of very intelligent people in it."

Stakeholders began working on the plan in early 2017. The Berkley Group served as the facilitator. The working group made up of stakeholders presented the draft of the plan to the Board of Supervisors in December 2018. Supervisors adopted the plan in February 2019.

Fire and rescue services have become more united, Williams told supervisors, noting that each volunteer company has equal representation in the more streamlined, decision-making process. The 13 independent volunteer stations and the county department function together with a common goal, the chief added.

The strategic plan covers five areas of emphasis: recruitment and retention; the organizational structure; training; communications; and human and equipment needs.

Williams noted the goals set in the plan and the accomplishments made in the past year. The plan called for increased membership in the volunteer system and the pool of applicants for county-funded positions.

Representatives with the county department and volunteer companies created a recruitment and retention committee as part of the initiatives laid out in the plan. The panel included two members from volunteer fire departments, two members from volunteer rescue agencies and two paid operational field personnel.

Williams lauded the recruitment and retention committee for its work on attracting volunteers and keeping them in the system.

The Department of Fire and Rescue, with input from the committee, hired Melissa Edmonson as a full-time recruitment and retention officer. Edmonton started in July and leads the committee. She has since recruited 18 new volunteer members for various agencies around the county, Williams said. The department now has a systemwide application process for volunteers. The department also is working on incentives for volunteer memberships and increasing recognition of volunteer accomplishments.

The county department has an estimated 390 volunteers working in the system, with approximately 220 identified as active operational and 170 as administrative support members, Williams stated in an email Thursday.

The department scheduled its first volunteer member orientation session for Feb. 22. The recruitment group recently visited the county’s three school campuses to recruit new members.

“I don’t think it’s any secret - our future is in the youth,” Williams said. “We have got to acquire the youth ... if we’re gonna survive.”

The committee also plans to attend job fairs in the area to recruit candidates.

The plan pushes to keep recruits through various means such as developing the standardized process for volunteer applications, hold an orientation program for new members and creating uniform probationary periods. The plan also calls for an effort to increase the number of businesses in the county that allow employees who serve as volunteers to respond to emergency calls during regular business hours.

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have identified the recruitment and retention officer for the Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department as Melissa Edmonson.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com