Option spelled out to hire ‘career’ firefighters, EMS responders
For the first time since October 1998, when the Rappahannock County government and Rappahannock County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association last issued a written agreement to provide emergency services to the county’s citizens, the board of supervisors and fire authorities are set to hold a special meeting today to adopt a new agreement.
“This agreement is intended to further enhance the partnership that exists between the county, the association, and the individual volunteer fire and rescue companies by providing greater clarity to the role and responsibility of each party,” a draft of the agreement reads.
It states that the Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, Castleton Community Volunteer Fire Company, Chester Gap Volunteer Fire Department, Flint Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department, Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad, and Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue will continue to operate “independently” albeit with the full financial support of the county.
“The county has traditionally allowed its volunteer companies a great deal of independence in the operation and direction of their activities, and the county has no intention of changing that tradition as a matter of policy so long as the companies continue to provide the level of service . . . and professionalism to the citizens of Rappahannock County,” the agreement states.
That said, the updated 2017 agreement stresses that today’s all-volunteer force could prove inadequate once the county’s population begins to grow and the needs change. In that case, if not sooner, the county would propose hiring career firefighters and emergency medical responders to supplement the volunteers.
“The county remains committed to maintaining a strong and viable volunteer Fire and Rescue/EMS system that may need to be supplemented by career fire, rescue, and emergency medical services employees in the future,” the agreement points out.
One scenario could see paid career firefighters and/or EMS providers working overnight shifts, lessening the burden on the squadron of Rappahannock volunteers, many of whom have full-time jobs.
In the meantime, the association would be expected to investigate innovative methods, including staff sharing or financial incentives for volunteers, to meet overall county fire and rescue service standards. The majority of companies in Rappahannock have recently drawn attention to a shortage of volunteers, especially young people.
“The association shall facilitate efforts and aggressively work to recruit, train, and maintain a viable volunteer fire, rescue, and emergency medical services,” the agreement states, but anything short of that requires that the association “notify the county as soon as possible of the need for career staffing, and prepare a plan, schedule, and procedures for integrating such career staff.”
Until that time, as set forth in the agreement, the companies would be expected to deliver “timely and efficient” fire, rescue, and emergency medical services to the public: “Response Time: Respond within 8 minutes and be on scene within 25 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 90 percent (%) of the time,” the draft reads.
From a firefighting standpoint this would entail “the ability to respond to an event and minimize to the extent possible the loss of life, loss of property and structural damage. This includes the ability to enter a burning building and rescue the occupant, with the appropriate number of qualified firefighters and the necessary apparatus,” says the agreement.
In addition, surrounding EMS, there would continue to be an expected “countywide ability to respond to two simultaneous events and administer medical aid and transport to hospital, with appropriate number of certified and qualified personnel and the necessary apparatus.”
For its part, the county government, when considering budget requests to fund the fire and rescue companies, would aspire “within the limits of its prudent budgetary priorities and constraints, to provide funding . . . that will cover one hundred percent of operational expenses.”
The Code of Virginia permits the county to impose a tax on real and personal property to raise funds solely to provide firefighting and emergency medical services, otherwise known as a “Fire Levy.”
The funds would continue to be administered in a separate account and be fully distributed as appropriated to the participating fire and rescue companies.
The county would also seek to “maintain mutual aid agreements” with the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier, Warren, Madison, and Page, and with federal agencies such as the U.S. National Park Service.
The county, if needed, would also act on behalf of fire companies that bill patients and their insurance providers to recover costs of providing EMS services.
Finally, any money raised from fundraising efforts by the individual fire companies would remain the property of those companies.