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CRC surveys fire, rescue depts.

The Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) is in the process of receiving surveys from area fire departments and rescue squads, and deliberating about the potential for a forum to discuss challenges facing these agencies.

Melody Foster

CRC Executive Director Melody Foster said during a meeting Sept. 19 that seven fire departments and two rescue squads responded to the surveys from the CRC so far, meant to find the specific challenges and strengths of area fire departments and rescue squads. More responses are expected, Foster said.

She said the CRC would report the results back the following month.

Foster said in the survey, she requested copies of the fire/rescue squads’ mutual aid agreement. Participants recommended contacting their counties for copies of the mutual aid agreements.

Questions on the survey include how many paid personnel each department has, if departments respond to aid in neighboring counties and if departments have a verbal or written mutual aid agreement with surrounding counties. Representatives also had the opportunity to provide additional comments or concerns.

Morgan Dunnavant

CRC members discussed increasing incentives for volunteers, increasing education for the public about how fire departments and rescue squads operate, potentially holding a forum featuring area fire and rescue service members and speculating of a future where, potentially, all fire and rescue squads would have paid personnel, where volunteers would be a thing of the past.

Buckingham District Four Supervisor and CRC Member Morgan Dunnavant recommended increasing incentives for volunteers interested in joining the departments. He said the county currently waives the fee for the county sticker, which comes to $25.

Thomas Gleason, chairman of the Amelia County Board of Supervisors, speculated on what could be volunteer fire and rescue departments’ near future: fully paid staffs.

“In the next 10 years, it’s going to be mandatory, either state or federal, to pay these employees, and they become a part of your county and the state payroll, that’s just the way it’s going to be,” Gleason said. “Volunteers are going to be a thing of the past.”

Rebecca Carter

Buckingham County Administrator Rebecca Carter said the county’s fire departments are currently going strong, but said the county upped its allocation for fire and rescue by $200,000. “They forewarned us that there’s no junior firefighters coming on board, so we see what’s coming down the road, that they’re not going to have the volunteers on down the road,” Carter said.

Dunnavant and Prince Edward County Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons presented two different viewpoints about the increase in training needed to become a fire department or rescue squad member.

“It genuinely seems like the rulemakers that are making the rules for those participating in the volunteer fire departments, made them with the intent of squeezing the volunteers out,” Dunnavant said. “Otherwise, why make those rules that are exclusionary? Or prohibitive in getting there.”

Timmons, presenting another viewpoint, said volunteers without the proper training can’t help themselves or anyone else if they don’t understand how the operations work.

C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr.

Carter also pointed out that many of those who are undergoing training and certification for fire departments and rescue squads are gravitating toward departments that hire career firefighters, such as Henrico and Chesterfield.

Foster emphasized the importance of educating the public about the departments, particularly that many of the fire departments and rescue squads in one’s backyards are run by volunteers. Dwindling volunteer levels could mean trouble for property owners.

“There’s some education to the public that needs to happen as well as to what services are being provided for them,” Foster said.

Foster said one fireman in particular suggested the CRC put together a forum where they could all come together.

“It would be a discussion but maybe something could evolve from that,” Foster said.

“I don’t know if we can solve it with the CRC except by grants … but we can definitely host the forum,” Timmons said.