Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Supervisors have nothing to say about fire and rescue’s strategic plan
For more than six months, members of the King George Board of Supervisors have waited for a report that addresses the needs of its fire and rescue system.
The supervisors got a presentation of the long-awaited report Tuesday night—and didn’t have a single question or comment.
Instead, a member of the team who helped prepare the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services’ five-year strategic plan talked about the way it was put together. Willie Howlett, a consultant from Chesterfield County who has a background in emergency services and as a county administrator, gave the supervisors a brief overview.
He encouraged them to take the document home and study it—even though they’d had the draft since May 15 and had waited until July 10 to schedule a work session to talk about it.
Then, Howlett praised the fire and rescue department.
“I can tell you without reservation that King George is ahead of very small and large organizations with this plan,” said Howlett, who has worked with more than 40 local governments, as well as the state. “I think you’ll see without a doubt how far advanced King George County is.”
Howlett’s presentation didn’t address the heart of the matter: the needs of the county’s fire and rescue department.
He didn’t mention the executive summary, which said the county needs at least seven people at each of its fire and rescue stations to meet safety standards.
That’s a total of 21 paid workers, and the county only has 11 in place. What’s more, it doesn’t have anyone stationed at Fairview Beach.
Howlett did point out the No. 1 concern cited in the report: that there’s no way to track how the department actually performs.
The current computer system doesn’t capture the necessary information, the report stated, so it’s not possible to track how quickly units get to the scene, complete their mission and are back in service again.
The report the supervisors got Tuesday night sounded eerily similar to a presentation in December that first mentioned that county officials would be working on a strategic plan.
The December presentation was given by County Administrator Travis Quesenberry. It addressed a state audit of the county’s fire and rescue system.
Quesenberry focused only on the recommendations of the report. He didn’t mention any of the background that led to the recommendations—that the state group cited “critical faults” in the department’s organization and structure that created a “dysfunctional and dangerous scene” for fire and rescue workers.
The lack of manpower was a key point in the state report, and King George’s strategic plan also mentioned it.
The team of eight people who worked on the plan included career and volunteer firefighters and emergency services workers, a resident, business representative and Howlett.
The team members identified top priorities, then rated the department on how it complies with National Fire Protection Standards.
The standards addressed everything from sufficient staff and equipment to a plan for hazardous materials and incident command.
The county completely met the standards in 34 of 70 areas, according to the report. Those areas included the way responders divided into teams on the scene, how they did standardized reports, mutual aid agreements, quality management and training.
“The department focus on safety is commendable,” the report stated.
The areas in which the county did not meet the standards focused on staff. In the category of sustained firefighting operations, the comment attached to three different standards was: “Rarely is there sufficient staff available in a timely manner.”
The report includes a number of goals and dates when groups or committees should start looking at those priorities. Some have dates of June 2012; others are as far out as 2016. Chief David Moody, who spoke before Howlett, said his department would be happy to address any comments the supervisors have.
Howlett did tell board members the county should be prepared to hire more staff in the future and invest in the volunteer system to keep it alive and well.
After the 30-minute presentation, Moody asked the supervisors if the department could apply for a grant under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program.
It’s administered through the Department of Homeland Security and pays for training as well as for salaries of firefighters for two years. After that, the county picks up the cost.
Supervisors gave Moody approval to fill out the application, which is due Aug. 10. At the board’s Aug. 7 meeting, members will discuss applying for the funds.
Here’s a Dec. 19 blog that includes the story about the December presentation and a link to the state report.