FRONT ROYAL — Warren County Fire and Rescue Services hopes to add 26 career staffers by 2025 for estimated costs between $4.7 and $5.5 million.
Fire and rescue staff recently presented the Board of Supervisors a five-year staffing plan that Chief Richard Mabie said would help quell the downward trend in volunteerism coinciding with increasing emergency calls.
The plan states that fire and rescue responded to 6,347 calls in 2018, which is an increase of about 14 percent increase over five years.
Mabie explained that of the county’s eight stations, Rivermont, Shenandoah Shores and Fortsmouth are fully volunteered-based with no career staff.
The remaining five stations have at least two career staff at all times. Staff includes 34 full-time employees, 12 part-time and 65 operational volunteers.
Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said goals of the five-year plan include: staffing the Rivermont Volunteer Fire Department 24/7; increasing staff at stations with high call volumes; increasing “floater” positions; adding support services positions; and increasing volunteer retention.
Maiatico said the plan would help the county meet the National Fire Protection Association’s standard of having at least 15 staff within nine minutes of fires for 90 percent of calls.
He said the department will soon apply for a grant that would fund 15 career staff. A trio of funding options ranged from $4.7 million to $5.5 million depending on whether a grant is obtained. Other factors affecting cost are whether hiring is staggered or takes place at once.
With insufficient volunteer levels, Mabie said Fire and Rescue Services must figure out innovative ways to provide safety. He added that paying career staff is not necessarily innovative but is a guaranteed way to serve the public.
Mabie explained that if the grant is obtained, the county would have to provide some matching funds and eventually take over all funding.
“That’s usually where the powers that be raise their eyebrows,’ he said.
County Administrator Doug Stanley said “the good news” is that the funds would not have to be allocated in the upcoming budget. He said it would be tough to fund all 26 positions over five years unless “some miracle money train drops out of the sky.”
The plan calls for six career staff, or two per shift, to be added at Rivermont, which became a volunteer department when its paid firefighters were transferred to the South Warren station.
He said this “left a hole” in Rivermont’s coverage area that is covered by North Warren and Front Royal, the county’s two busiest stations. He said anything that would alleviate those stations’ burden is “an added benefit.”
The plan also calls to increase paid staff at those two busy stations by adding at least two positions per shift at Front Royal and at least one position per shift at North Warren.
In 2018, the plan states that Front Royal did not make it to 594, or about 14 percent, of its calls. This resulted in other stations assisting, and Maiatico said the plan would allow every department to focus on its coverage area.
Maiatico said three “floaters” would also ideally be hired and not assigned to a particular station. He explained that staff used 10,808 hours of leave in 2018, resulting in an estimated $137,080 in overtime compensation.
Mabie said the floaters would fill in for people on leave and if no one is out, they would likely be assigned to whatever station needs the most help. He added that some firefighters have recently suffered long-term injuries, and the floaters could be temporarily assigned to cover for those individuals.
An assistant chief and training captain would also be hired under the plan. The plan states that the assistant chief would have a variety of responsibilities and “improve the span of control on the administrative supervision” of employees.
The training captain, which the county had through 2013, would coordinate training and education experiences and could respond to incidents.
The final objective of the plan is to better recruit and retain volunteers. Maiatico said Fire and Rescue Services does not have a volunteer recruitment problem and can get interested volunteers to attend entry-level functions.
But, he said, the county has a retention problem that could perhaps be solved by offering a “volunteer retirement system” that would provide a pension based on the volunteer’s commitment and length of service.