Does Prince Edward County need a public safety director?

Published 5:59 am Friday, March 15, 2024

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Earlier this month, Deanna Lester resigned as executive director of the Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad. As the operation looks to move forward, Prince Edward supervisors weighed the idea that now was time to consider a much larger change, when it comes to fire and rescue measures in the county. Does the county need a public safety director?

“I think this might be a good time to sit down and talk about (hiring) a public safety director to oversee all fire and EMS,” supervisor Jerry Townsend said. Speaking during the county supervisors’ Tuesday night meeting, Townsend said a safety director could help make sure all of the fire and rescue departments are consistent with equipment, that the equipment is interchangeable. 

“(He or she could) also make any presentations or requests to the board, instead of hearing from seven different entities on their requests and their needs,” Townsend added. “Several counties have gone to a public safety director, event Charlotte County and that’s small.” 

Considering public safety director options

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Nearby Buckingham County has a similar setup, with Cody Davis serving as Department of Emergency Services Chief. Chris Russell, meanwhile, serves as Director of Public Safety for Charlotte County, working with the sheriff’s office, the rescue squad and the different fire departments.

The Herald requested a copy of his job description and it says the “Director of Public Safety is responsible for performing professional and administrative work to coordinate local emergency response agencies and direct on-going emergency preparation and emergency response operations for the County,” the Charlotte County document says. “The director works under the supervision of the Charlotte County Administrator and works closely with the Sheriff’s Department, local, state, and federal officials, and agencies during routine operations and in times of crisis.” 

Prince Edward officials said they’d be interested in discussing something similar. 

What about the departments? 

The one issue, Prince Edward supervisor Cannon Watson said, is that he doesn’t want to force a public safety director on fire departments. 

“I would want to make sure fire departments would want this or wouldn’t really dislike it,” he said. 

Watson pointed out that some volunteer positions, like volunteer firefighter spots, already struggle to get filled at times in the county. He didn’t want to give anyone a reason to quit. 

“I agree, we’ve got to get everybody on board,” Townsend said. “But it may be an opportunity. We don’t need to be the Lone Ranger. Look around us. What’s the trend? I think as a board, as a county, we need to start engaging in some dialogue in the area. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gotta be now.” 

Supervisor Llewellyn Gilliam praised the work of Trey Pyle in that area, saying the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator has done a good job of securing grant funding that all fire departments in the area can use. But he agreed before any new positions are created, all of the groups need to be on board. 

Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley pointed out that if supervisors wanted to go down this road, creating a new safety director position, they would need to start discussions soon in order to even be considering it by next year’s budget time. 

What’s next for rescue squad? 

As for what’s next for the Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad, supervisor David Emert, who works with the group, said at Tuesday’s meeting they’re still deciding. 

“We just had a meeting as to whether we were going to actually hire somebody to replace [Lester] or if we were going to hire a person to do the financial side, an office manager and all that,” Emert said. “Deanna ran a lot of calls, so she wasn’t in the office as much. They need somebody to answer the phone and all that.” 

Lester had served in her position for just over three years and Emert praised the work she did with the Rescue Squad in her time there. 

“She completely turned it around,” he said. “It was a mess as we all know. Financially, they were in terrible shape [before] and she really turned it around. Now we have some full-time positions and pretty much have it covered 24 hours a day.” 

He acknowledged that the number of volunteers are down in several areas, not just with the Rescue Squad, in his opinion blaming the younger generation’s mindset. 

“We’re getting a lot of college students in all of our things and young people don’t have the drive to work, let’s just be straight up honest about it,” Emert said. “They don’t have the drive to work, like the majority of us grew up. They want to do everything on the phone. They want to clock in on the phone, they want to do everything remote. There’s just certain things that you have to be present to do.”  

No decisions were made about a safety director, with supervisors only agreeing to continue the conversation.