The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsylvania struggling to staff two fire, rescue stations
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Paid firefighters and medics have begun staffing two stations in Spotsylvania County around the clock because of a shortage of volunteers.
Kevin Dillard, administrative chief of Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue, wrote a letter to county Fire Chief Chris Eudailey on July 4 asking for 24/7 coverage by career personnel in a fire and rescue station at Salem Church and a fire station at Salem Fields. Chancellor previously tried to cover those stations on nights and/or weekends but often had to call career firefighters to fill in.
“We’re not going to let pride get in the way of serving the people appropriately,” Dillard said in an interview. “I credit our members and our officers for realizing there’s a potential problem.”
He said in his letter to the fire chief that Chancellor—which has lost about 100 volunteers since December—will be able focus on fewer stations “instead of spreading ourselves so thin.”
Career emergency responders started working in the stations at Salem Church and Salem Fields around the clock this past Monday.
Eudailey said in an email to the Fire and EMS Commission that all stations will have “minimum resources” under the new staffing arrangement.
The Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management had to transfer two fire and rescue employees from administrative jobs to the understaffed stations, said Deputy Fire Chief Scott Hechler.
The news comes as the county has launched its first ad campaign in several years to recruit more volunteers. The county Board of Supervisors allocated $36,000 for the effort earlier this year, and the campaign started at the end of June.
Officials have placed yard signs at busy intersections encouraging residents to “stand beside” volunteers.
They also plan to hang banners at all fire and rescue stations and have purchased newspaper and radio advertisements.
“Hopefully, we can bolster our ranks to the point where we don’t have to give up any other stations,” said Mark Kuechler, an assistant chief with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department and a member of the Fire and EMS Commission.
Dillard said the shortage of volunteers in stations at Salem Fields and Salem Church is because of a number of factors.
Some volunteers are called in to their full-time jobs at inopportune times, and others have been hired by the county.
Spotsylvania is currently paying career staff overtime to man four rural stations on weekends because of a lack of volunteers. Those stations will be covered by career personnel 24/7 sometime next year, based on a plan approved by the Board of Supervisors in March to hire 55 fire and rescue personnel over two years.
The most-recent staffing change will increase overtime costs even more.
“Until we can get more staffing available, it’s going to be a relatively costly endeavor for us,” said Hechler, the deputy fire chief.
Supervisor Benjamin Pitts said in a recent email to the fire chief that the safety of residents continues to be at risk. Firefighter shortages are happening at “an increasing and alarming rate,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that the second-busiest fire/rescue district within the county continues to operate at times either understaffed and/or unstaffed,” Pitts wrote.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402