In late June and early July, I toured 5 Frederick County fire stations and spoke with our firefighters, paramedics and EMS professionals and volunteers. I have learned for myself the many issues and unresolved needs affecting the services that touch our lives most critically. After all, if it’s your loved one having a heart attack on the porch, don’t you want the best response?
In Back Creek, emergency services are provided by a partnership of county funding to locally owned fire houses out of which operate professional firefighters, EMS and Paramedics, and a trained volunteer cadre. Neither could function without the other. There are many issues but I want to highlight 6 at this time. Each issue is briefly discussed in a separate short Facebook post that follows this one. Please take the time to read them and if you wish, share your thoughts back with me.
The folks of Back Creek have not had an open path to share their concerns with county officials for many years. High time to open one up. As your supervisor, I will facilitate a town hall meeting at each Back Creek fire station, bringing the county government out to busy moms and dads, farmers and working people, to dialogue on needs and brainstorm better, more clever solutions for fire and life safety protection, efficiency and funding. Working together is always better.
Aging emergency response vehicles and equipment require more maintenance and downtime and oftentimes, cannot fully perform all the functions of modern ones. Should you be trapped in your car after a bad collision, and the responding personnel arrive without the Jaws of Life to pry you lose, you get to wait.
In a catch 22, the county reimburses more to stations responding with multi- function equipment. If you are a less well financed station to begin with, how do you raise and save up the money to get new stuff? In many cases it is difficult or impossible for the stations to raise the funds necessary to replace aging emergency response vehicles, this could jeopardize public safety and the safety of our firefighters.
Stations surrounded by more population and new development have a better chance at owning newer emergency response vehicles and equipment. There is an imbalance of equipment and emergency response vehicles between stations that actually complicates response time and coverage patterns. The current county formula is not changing that. The current board is out of ideas, which is why we urgently need some new blood. I will insist the board of supervisors and staff brainstorm alternative funding solutions to come up with the best formula to begin to correct the imbalance. This does not mean new taxes.
Some older fire stations lack the bank accounts to remodel. In some, our emergency response personnel are sleeping in closets on overnight or 24 hour shifts! This is neither right nor fair.
The community support groups which fund the local fire stations cannot bear the whole cost, so perhaps the county should help. But there’s a catch.
For some twenty years, the board of supervisors has been in the grip of a group of men who failed to take responsibility for putting money aside for large scale future needs. These guys pretended a rainy day could never come.
I believe Frederick County needs to quit being a deer in the headlights. We need to step up to the plate and build up the funding in the Capital Improvement Program, whether for fire stations or schools, so that when an undeniable need is staring us in the face, we don’t have 20 meetings over 3 years trying to find a solution, with lots of nastiness and blaming.
Your family and mine budget prudently: we put what money we can into savings for future family needs and emergencies. Our government must do the same, must shun false economies, and must become honest and transparent to the people.
Major fixes like building a new and open way of budgeting for important needs like fire stations cannot be done in a two week run up to the budget hearings. I will ask the Board to work on this all year long, with the hope of changes by 2020-21.
In Rural Virginia, and really across America, Fire and Rescue services have always relied on a group of volunteer men and women proud to be able to serve their communities.
Today, so many people work hard but aren’t paid a living wage and benefits, so adults have to work 2 – 3 jobs each to make ends meet. Not only does that take a toll on family life, but it eliminates time for volunteering and training as an emergency services person.
Our stations are now finding it harder and harder to recruit and maintain volunteers, especially as older ones retire. It’s challenging to keep stations staffed at full strength with emergency response personnel, especially at peak times.
Last year, 500 more emergency calls were received, straining resources. We may be nearing a time when the county has to chip in more full time paid personnel to staff our stations, but we should be doing everything we can to boost our volunteer recruitment and retention efforts in the most cost effective way. It is time to begin discussion on how to keep our stations fully staffed to come rescue you or your house. I would like to take an active role in such discussions.
Virginia law requires cities and counties to provide fire marshal inspection services to businesses. By checking building plans for safety problems, and inspecting businesses periodically to check for violations of codes, like locked exit doors, Fire Marshals in effect put out a fire before it happens. It is an important service to living in a safe community.
However, since the chief beneficiaries are the business properties, the County should evaluate charging a fee to cover the cost of the inspection. This would provide funds towards filling the fire marshal positions now vacant. After all, if you are a county that is encouraging growth, you need to be staffed in all ways to support those new industrial parks, strip malls and office buildings. I would introduce a motion and resolution to this effect at the Board.
Thank you for reading up on important fire and life safety issues affecting us all. Feel free to give some feedback on this series and look for a fun post with cool photos that might come along soon.
It’s our intention to post some thoughts on and support for Frederick County Sheriff’s needs when we have concluded those briefings.