Fire and rescue focus group proposed

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — During a work session on Feb. 4, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors proposed bringing local first responders together in a focus group to discuss their future.

According to a presentation from County Administrator Mary Beth Price, the group would discuss the community’s public safety expectations and the best way to use “limited human and equipment resources” to respond to 911 calls.

The 15-member group would contain five county residents, five representatives from the county administrative and fire and rescue departments and five volunteer first responders, the presentation read.

Demographic needs would also be addressed, as 911 calls in the county increased from 9,900 in 2011 to more than 12,000 last year, according to the presentation.

Gary Yew, chief of the county Department of Fire and Rescue, said the group would help paid and volunteer squads decide what their short-term and long-term goals should be and how they can collaborate to achieve those goals.

“It would be things like staffing, capital improvements in the system, service deliveries, things like that,” Yew said. “It would help us come to a consensus.”

According to the presentation, the group would submit a final report to supervisors after discussions end. Yew said no timetable has been proposed as to when and how often the group would meet once formed.

Yew said the proposal has “been coming down the pike for a while,” and is not a result of tensions between county fire and rescue staff and the New Market Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.

Conflict between the two groups led to the removal of former New Market chief Robbie Smith and the withdrawal of 14 county responders from the New Market station in December.

The responders returned to New Market on Jan. 22 in preparation for Winter Storm Jonas.

Yew said the focus group is still in the planning stages but received some positive feedback from supervisors.

“People saw the advantage of moving forward,” he said.

Supervisor Cindy Bailey, however, opposed the idea.

“I think we should work with the volunteers and see what they need first,” she said. “I don’t like having only five volunteers in the group. I don’t like paying a facilitator to come in.”

Bailey said the agreement supervisors made with volunteer squads in 2006 concerning each side’s rights and responsibilities should continue to be followed. She also said volunteers and county staff should strive to improve cooperation with each other.

“We should work on getting communication opened back up before we put another layer of government over EMS,” she said.

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