Which fire department should cover southern Buckingham County?

DILLWYN – Lawrence Kidd has done the math. From his home at 1753 Sawmill Road in Buckingham County, it’s 18 minutes away from Dillwyn Fire Department. It’s 22 minutes away from Toga Volunteer Fire Department. Because he lives closer to the county line, it’s only six miles or 9 minutes away from Farmville Volunteer Fire Department. 

“Why would anyone think it was appropriate to call two fire departments that are farther away?” he asked Buckingham supervisors at their Monday, Feb. 13 meeting. 

Other Buckingham County residents tell similar stories. Because of where their homes are located, Farmville or Prospect fire departments can get to the scene quicker than other operations in Buckingham. All total, 654 residents are affected by the issue. 

Terry Buchanan is one of those. He owns a small farm in Buckingham, also in the Lower Francisco Fire District. As an emergency volunteer, he’s responded to three fires since he’s been in the area. In all three cases, Prospect Fire Department in Prince Edward County was the first on scene. 

All of this matters because of a change requested by Prospect Assistant Chief James Redford. In a letter to Buckingham County Administrator Karl Carter, Redford argued that valuable time is lost while following the current process. 

Currently, when a fire happens in southern areas of Buckingham County, there are times when the 911 call goes to the Farmville Emergency Communications Center, as that is closer. But because it’s a different county, the ECC first transfers the call to the Buckingham County sheriff’s dispatch center, who immediately dispatches the nearest Buckingham department and Farmville or Prospect (or sometimes both) are requested to give assistance.

What Redford proposes for Buckingham County

However, Redford argues in those situations, it would make more sense if the Farmville ECC could dispatch immediately. As soon as they receive the call, he proposes the ECC should be allowed to identify which department, either Farmville or Prospect, is closer and dispatch them to the scene. The only difference between that and the current situation is now the departments have to wait until Buckingham officially requests help. 

“To prevent further delay in response, I am requesting that permission be granted to Farmville ECC, to allow them to dispatch those respective agencies without having to be specifically requested by Buckingham County,” Redford wrote in his letter. “Thus resulting in quicker fire response into the Lower Francisco Fire District. Of course the Farmville.ECC 911 dispatcher will still follow the proper protocol of “transfering the call” to (the) Buckingham sheriff’s dispatch center in these scenarios. Once this permission is granted, Farmville ECC will be dispatching according to the most recent map data that was agreed upon by the responding chiefs.” 

Chiefs say let them find a solution

Now to be clear, this is a request from one assistant chief of a fire department in Prince Edward County. It did not come from the county or either of the fire chiefs of the respective departments. The chiefs of Arvonia and Toga say they understand the concerns. But instead of asking the county to step in, before departments even have a chance to talk, they want a chance to better understand the situation and find a solution. 

“A local automatic mutual aid agreement should be documented and agreed upon by the fire departments that will have direct interaction,” said Arvonia Chief Chris Davis. He pointed out that hasn’t happened yet, nor has an actual request gone out to the departments for a discussion to take place. 

Davis, who has lived and volunteered in Buckingham for the last 35 years, asked supervisors to let the fire chiefs sit down and come up with an answer. The chiefs of all fire departments in Buckingham County meet once each quarter with County Administrator Karl Carter and the Department of County Emergency Services. That next meeting is Monday, March 20. 

“I’m in favor of efforts designed to reduce delays and response times during emergencies,” Davis said. However, he cautioned supervisors that “good intentions with a bad plan will be a disaster for us all.” 

Glenmore Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Lily had a similar take. He pointed out that Glenmore dealt with a similar issue several years ago with Scottsville.  

“Let us work on it,” Lily said. “You take where Glenmore is and the Scottsville bridge, we’re not gonna beat them there. But we’ve got an agreement, we dispatch them, they’re there and we’re coming.” 

What happens next? 

Buckingham supervisors unanimously agreed with the chiefs. 

“Why don’t we let the fire departments, let the chiefs get together and work the problem out?” Buckingham Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe Chambers said. “We just want to see the citizens protected.” 

Supervisors voted 7-0 to send the issue to the fire chiefs meeting in March. The fire chiefs are being asked to examine the issue, make a recommendation and bring that back to the supervisors, where a final vote will take place later this year.


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