Supervisors to form fire, EMS planning group

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is assembling a strategic planning group to create a long-term plan for fire and rescue needs in the county.

The board discussed the group during its work session in Woodstock on May 4, but didn’t decide who would be on it or when it would meet.

The planning process will involve meetings among supervisors, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, paid fire and EMS staff and representatives from each of the county’s six voting districts which supervisors will choose, Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass said.

Participants will discuss the annual volume of 911 calls for each of the county’s 11 volunteer fire and rescue stations, annual volunteer numbers and other issues affecting service, Vass said.

The goal is to create a long-term plan for identifying and funding fire and rescue needs, he said.

“Hopefully it will help you plan more effectively, whether it’s budgetary or with policy,” Vass told supervisors.

The group will include at least 18 people, he said. The district representatives can be people affiliated with fire and rescue operations or private citizens who have recently used those services, he said.

While no timetable has been set for the meetings, supervisors hope to start them during the summer and end them before the holidays, Vass said.

The planning process is the result of a volunteer shortage at Conicville Volunteer Fire Department, which led supervisors to send two county-employed firefighters to the station in an emergency measure in December.

The station, about nine miles northwest of Mount Jackson, has 35 part-time volunteers, according to a volunteer operational report released by Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue on April 11.

Supervisors made the emergency hirings permanent in January, but rejected requests from Conicville and Orkney Springs Fire and Rescue to hire seven full-time firefighters to provide more coverage to the county’s rural western corridor.

The hires would have cost the county about $525,000 per year.

In March, Supervisor Richard Walker defended the board’s decision by saying that a task force was necessary to analyze call numbers and other data to see if hiring more personnel is really the answer.

Supervisor Steve Baker, whose 2nd District includes Conicville, advocated during the work session for a “really good facilitator” to lead the meetings.

“This will be a dialogue for the future of fire and rescue service in this county,” he said.

The strategic planning group is a start to solving the county’s first-responder issues, but it doesn’t mean a quick fix is coming, County Fire and Rescue Chief Tim Williams said after the work session.

“This is going to take some time,” he said.

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