Plans for fire, rescue underway

Published 1:53 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cody Davis, E-911 coordinator/emergency services manager, presented an overview during the recent Buckingham County Board of Supervisors meeting of ways the county’s emergency services department is working to further improve its emergency service communication and response.

Davis, during the presentation, said the department used Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to compute travel times and pinpoint the times it takes for each volunteer fire department or rescue squad in the county to respond to different places in the county.

He said assistance with the GIS was provided by Brian Bates of Toga Volunteer Fire Department and Dr. Walter Witschey with Longwood University.

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He said the goals for this new development are to create new “first due” (first responder) E911 response areas for each fire department, to create new call-out messages (MSAG) for the (Virginia Department of Transportation) VDOT-based E911 system with up to five responders and include non-Buckingham departments if necessary for responders 3, 4 and 5.

Davis displayed three GIS maps showing the approximate response times from Dillwyn, Toga and Arvonia fire departments to locations throughout the county. The darker areas of the presentation indicate response times within 10 minutes. The dark green areas for Toga, dark blue areas for Dillwyn and dark pink areas for Arvonia indicate response times of 20 minutes. The light green areas for Toga, light blue areas for Dillwyn and light pink areas for Arvonia indicate approximate response times of 30 minutes.

Davis said the system would allow departments in surrounding counties closest to the call to be notified at the same time Buckingham responders are.

He said for the areas of Glenmore and Lovingston, near Scottsville, that agencies out of the county are needed to respond rather than within the county.

Davis said a dispatch-algorithm is going to be put into play, meaning that the technology would determine which two Buckingham departments are closest, call for them to respond, and then have the closest department outside Buckingham be notified as well.

“Since they are Buckingham County residents and taxpayers … it’s not going to be like we’re going to push off our problems onto the other localities,” Davis said. “We’re still going to send at least two Buckingham agencies, so that we make a valiant effort to look out for our own. (There’s) no pride-filled decisions in there. We’re still going to offer the proper assistance immediately. It’s no longer going to be a judgment call. It’s going to be laid out pretty black-and-white.”

District Three Supervisor Don Matthews said that fire departments in Farmville, Cumberland and Prospect, for example, are closer to some Buckingham areas than the maps might indicate.

“Like you said, the computer’s not going to lie,” Matthews told Davis. “If they’re closer and they need to be first online, than that’s what they expect, that’s what their citizens expect.”

Davis said he plans to provide another presentation prior to the new system being implemented.

“I don’t care who responds,” District Two Supervisor Donnie Bryan said adding it matters what company can be there the quickest to respond in an emergency. “It doesn’t have to be somebody from Buckingham.”

District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant asked how neighboring fire departments are responding to this plan.

Davis said there has been an active conversation between fire departments involved with this plan.

“Everyone is eager to play well together and help each other out,” Davis said.

He said a similar approach will take place with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers, though he said it would not interfere with law enforcement operations in the county.

Matthews commented about making sure allocations to county fire and rescue departments are not wasteful.

This system, Davis said, would be implemented for the worst-case scenarios.

“When the maximum amount of stress is placed on our dispatchers, they can just basically click a button and it tells them who to send,” Davis said.

Davis said he met with first responders in Scottsville, and he said Scottsville and Fluvanna agreed to help with calls that involve life-threatening situations.

Supervisors also brought up the challenges facing fire and EMS departments of personnel shortages and how that would affect this plan.

Davis said departments  for counties such as Cumberland, unless it is a volunteer crew, sometimes cannot respond to mutual aid calls due to staffing challenges and needing to keep career crew within Cumberland County. He said volunteer staff from Cumberland and Buckingham have provided mutual aid calls for one another in the past, and that Buckingham would contact Cumberland departments in emergencies.

Sammy Smith, in the audience, asked about residents in the Gladstone area, saying that the area is far from fire and rescue facilities in Buckingham County.

Davis said Gladstone Volunteer Fire and Rescue has been eager to respond and collaborate with this plan.

Davis credited the teamwork of each of the county’s departments in moving this project forward.

He said there will be a committee meeting that is set to discuss this plan further. He did not disclose the day or time during the meeting.

Davis requested that supervisors, before their March 11 meeting, to hear a presentation from Gene Stewart, Region 3 Chief Emergency Management Coordinator with Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) about a software program called Virginia Emergency Management Crisis Track Program. The program streamlines the process for VDEM to analyze situations and provide grant assistance to localities following large-scale disasters.