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Fire departments evaluated

Walter Bailey, chair of the Virginia Fire Services Board (VFSB) gave presentations about Cumberland County and the Town of Farmville’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) departments following evaluations the VFSB performed for the two areas over the summer.

The reports, conducted at the beginning of June, included independent evaluations of the departments by several VFSB individuals, meaning that each individual examined the departments separately from one another and did not compare notes before the evaluation was finalized.

Bailey said during the presentations at the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors meeting Oct. 9 and the Farmville Town Council Oct. 10 that the evaluation focused on five different themes: organizational and operational development, communication, training, budget and administration and delivery of service.

The studies have to be requested by the localities, and they come at no charge to the counties.

Bailey said for Cumberland, he recommended that the county and emergency services committee work to create a centralized organization in the county that works with all of the fire and rescue organizations, adopting and implementing a strategic plan to increase performance levels and achieve lower cost of service delivery, to create accountability practices that include increased communication between fire and rescue agencies in the county and a required annual or biannual financial audits, find creative ways to retain current volunteers and attract new volunteers and to develop a capital improvement plan for upgrading its fire and rescue stations and equipment. He said this is especially the case as equipment prices have risen exponentially.

He said fundraising is important for community development and support, but said fundraisers won’t be enough to sustain rising fire department and EMS equipment costs.

“The Fire and EMS world has changed,” Bailey said.

Fire & EMS Chief Tom Perry resigned June 8. Fire and rescue agencies personnel and residents have voiced ongoing concerns about the operations of the fire and rescue departments in the county, difficulties in communication between different agencies, difficulties in maintaining equipment and a dwindling volunteer pool.

Board Chairman Kevin Ingle said in an email statement that based on the presentation and the aspects of the department that Bailey evaluated, Ingle said the county will work to potentially increase incentives for volunteer agencies, develop a capital improvement plan for equipment replacement and continually address the need for paid rescue squad personnel.

Ingle said a workshop is underway with the county and the Emergencies Service Committee (ESC) to discuss the complete survey.

“Much work has already been put in by the ESC and chairman Glen Moore to develop protocol and needs assessments for some of the emergency agencies,” Ingle said. “I trust that the ESC will probably have a lot of the same suggestions that the survey will have included. As what was mentioned during the presentation, our volunteers are the backbone of the county’s emergency responses that work with in cooperation with the paid staffing. Mutual aid agreements with our neighboring counties are in the process of being updated to help improve emergency services for us and them.”

Ingle said while he expects that a recommendation would be to hire an emergency services coordinator, he said the individual agencies have been able to handle the operations on their own.

“I just know that from being in Cumberland volunteer for over 30 years that individual agencies have always met the challenges thrust upon them adequately,” Ingle said. “Is there room for improvement … by all means yes. Whether that comes from a paid person leading volunteers or by a committee of equals from each agency banding together. The near future will likely answer that question.”

To view the full report, visit www.cumberlandcounty.virginia.gov/fire-ems.

Speaking with the Farmville Town Council Oct. 10, Bailey said he was pleased by how the fire department operates, the conditions the departments keeps the equipment and the pool of volunteers and support each organization has.

Bailey recommended that the fire department and rescue squad consider collaborating more and working together on a more professional capacity.

“Even though you have two great organizations here, we would like to see them working a little bit closer together,” Bailey said, citing declines in rescue squad volunteers nationally over the years.

He also recommended that the  fire department work to become a licensed first responder agency to better assist residents during emergency situation.

He also recommended, with the rising cost of equipment and turnout gear, that the fire department, rescue squad and organizations from neighboring counties to consider collaborating to purchase the equipment together to save costs. He cited Cumberland as an example and that he had given Cumberland a similar presentation the evening before.

He recommended that the Farmville department consider installing living quarters to further incentivize volunteers to work evening or night shifts or in the event of natural disasters.

Prince Edward County Rescue Squad Captain Brian Butler and Farmville Fire Department Chief Dean Farmer attended the meeting.

Butler and Farmer said they had previously discussed the potential to further collaborate, and would be open to future conversations.

“We are tremendously blessed to have the fire department and the rescue squad,” Town Mayor David Whitus said, “and to have the caliber of fire department and rescue squad that we have.”