‘That’s got to change’

Cumberland County and the Town of Farmville hosted the Virginia Fire Services Board (VFSB) during town halls that took place Monday and Tuesday, respectively. During the town halls, members of the public were able to ask questions and voice commendation or concerns regarding their fire and emergency medical services (EMS) departments. The meetings came after the VFSB performed studies on the Cumberland and Farmville fire and EMS departments to evaluate their services.

Walter Bailey, chief of the Virginia Fire Services Board (VFSB), said the studies are a service the VFSB offers to localities to present an outside, professional perspective of the operations of their fire and EMS departments.

He said the localities have to request the study, and that the studies come at no cost to the county.

Bailey said the assessments will become public documents after the August VFSB meeting and will be available at the VFSB website, www.vafire.com, under “About VDFP” and available with the two localities.

“We’re trying to identify where you are now and help guide you to where you want to be in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years, because if you don’t plan for the future, you’re going to fail,” Bailey said.

Bailey said during the meeting that Fire and EMS are overwhelming underfunded by the state, and he said he hopes to assist counties that are also struggling to maintain funds to create a long-term plan for their departments.

“Virginia’s public safety fund is close to $4 billion dollars,” Bailey said during the Monday town hall. “That’s billion with a B. Yet Fire and EMS only get about $70 million dollars out of the $4 billion dollars.”

“We are woefully underfunded,” Bailey said, noting that occurs on the state and federal level, “and that’s got to change.”

Kimberly Lightfoot, chief of operations with the Cartersville County Volunteer Rescue Squad, asked if having Fire & EMS agencies owned by volunteers and by counties, similar to Cumberland’s consolidated Fire & EMS agency, has become more prevalent.

“Yes,” Bailey said. “It’s been quite a mixture and that’s more the common model than uncommon model.”

Bailey said mergings have become more typical with the increase of expenses and dwindling volunteer numbers.

Board Chairman Kevin Ingle, who has served on the Cumberland County Volunteer Fire Department since 1984, said the VFSB surveyed the department Monday.

“It is my understanding that the physical survey was a one day visit to the departments,” Ingle said. “There will be a process of compiling information and when completed the results will be sent to Ms. (Vivian Seay) Giles for authentication of information supplied them. After that the findings will be returned to the fire board for presentation to the Cumberland BOS.”

Farmville Fire Department Chief Dean Farmer said in a previous interview that during the study, the VFSB “evaluate(d) organizational structure, budgeting, personnel, training, fleet management and operations.”

Farmer said Wednesday there was no resident participation during Tuesday’s Town Hall, though said representatives from the Town of Farmville and the Prince Edward County Volunteer Rescue Squad were present and offered comments during the meeting.

Bailey said the VFSB evaluated the Farmville Fire Department in addition to the Prince Edward County Volunteer Rescue Squad Tuesday prior to the town hall.

This article was corrected from its original version.

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