State report recommends centralized fire and rescue agency, data questioned

Published 1:23 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A recent state-level fire and rescue report calls for Isle of Wight to establish a single agency and adopt fire tax districts to offset the cost of improving its system.

Also, the county’s method of blanket funding doesn’t allow for accountability and is inefficient, according to a fire and EMS study completed by the Virginia Fire Services Board and presented last month to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors.

The report also recommended that Isle of Wight replace its public safety radio system — an effort that is currently underway. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The Board accepted the report at its April 21 meeting, and it is scheduled for discussion at tonight’s Fire and Rescue Association meeting.

Accepting the report doesn’t mean Isle of Wight agrees with its findings, said Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson.

Windsor Supervisor Joel Acree, who is also the former chief of the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department, is especially interested in what the volunteer chiefs, as well as the county’s chief of emergency services, have to say.

The report went on to suggest Isle of Wight hire a professional mediator to restore trust and rapport between county administration, the Board of Supervisors and its volunteer fire and rescue organizations.

The report was requested last year when the Board and two fire and rescue agencies in particular were in a legal battle over a facilities use agreement and funding.

The standoff over the facilities use agreement between the Carrollton and Windsor Volunteer Fire Departments was eventually resolved, three new Board members were elected and the former county administrator resigned. 

William Kyger with the Virginia Fire Services Board urged the county to improve its communications with its fire and rescue agencies, especially in terms of future economic development.

Businesses coming to Isle of Wight are not “mom and pop” shops and are looking for consistency in the county’s fire and rescue services before investing money in the community, Kyger said.

However, while the report does recommend creating one countywide fire and rescue agency, it also suggests that individual stations can retain their names. This would be paired with a single standard of operations (SOP), and which is currently lacking in Isle of Wight, according to the report.

“Organizations that lack SOPs are increasingly vulnerable to accidents, lawsuits, preventable costs, personnel problems and damage to their professional image, according to the report.

Currently, Isle of Wight has seven independent volunteer fire and rescue organizations with their own governing structure and more than 300 volunteers. Isle of Wight County provides quarterly contributions and maintenance to the county-owned fire and rescue facilities. At the same time, Isle of Wight has an Emergency Services Department with a chief of emergency services and about 100 career full and part-time staff.

A $50 fire and rescue tax was suggested in 2012 as a way to address fire and rescue funding needs, but was ultimately rejected.

Kyger said the Board is not legally bound to follow up on recommendations, nor does it provide legal advice.

During the April 21 Board meeting, Carrollton firefighter Albert Burckard took issue with numbers presented in the study’s appendix that made it appear his department had dramatically decreased its response to fire incidents from 547 in 2010 to just four in 2014.

Burckard said Carrollton responded to more than 1,000 calls in 2014.

This report was compiled during a time of conflict and is “almost a malicious, libelous attempt to destroy the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department,” said Burckard and urged the Board not to accept the study.

The information in the report was pulled from state reports that are submitted by the individual stations, Robertson said.

Those numbers were not submitted by Isle of Wight County, Robertson said.

Isle of Wight County Volunteer Rescue Squad Capt. Brian Carroll agreed that the numbers presented in the appendix section of the report are skewed.

He said it goes back to the reports given to the Board last year, when relations between the volunteer agencies and the supervisors and administration had broken down.

Carroll said he doesn’t expect the numbers to get fixed.

For example, appendix three states that the Isle of Wight County Volunteer Rescue Squad responded to just 19 calls in December 2015. 

The rescue squad actually responded to 174 calls in December 2015, according to its quarterly report to Isle of Wight County.  {/mprestriction}