Firefighter hiring may not be enough
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Spotsylvania County’s plan to hire 55 additional fire and rescue personnel through January 2014 may not be enough.
Fire Chief Chris Eudailey on Tuesday told the Board of Supervisors that the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management’s paid firefighters are stretched thin. The county needs 12 to 15 more firefighters, in addition to the positions approved by supervisors earlier this year, he wrote in a report.
“We are at bare minimum staffing at all 10 stations,” Eudailey said. “Any time anyone is absent for any reason, we call someone back in at overtime in order to maintain minimum staffing.”
Minimum staffing, he said, is five employees at each station—two for an ambulance and three for a firetruck.
The Board of Supervisors won’t discuss hiring more firefighters until it receives input from the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Commission, which meets next on Sept. 12. Last week, the county applied for a federal grant that would fund 36 additional firefighter positions for two years.
The fire and rescue department’s staffing issues worsened in July, when paid firefighters began working at stations at Salem Fields and Salem Church around the clock at the request of Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue. Chancellor previously tried to cover those stations on nights and/or weekends but often had to call paid firefighters to fill in.
It’s unclear how much overtime has increased since paid firefighters took over the stations at Salem Fields and Salem Church.
The county is paying firefighters about $30,000 a week in overtime to staff four rural stations—at Belmont, Brokenburg, Partlow and Wilderness—on weekends because of a shortage of volunteers.
The county hired nine additional firefighters in June to eliminate the need for overtime at the Partlow and Wilderness stations. They will start their jobs in November after graduating from recruit school.
The fire and rescue department is scheduled to hire another nine firefighters—to be assigned to Brokenburg and Belmont—in January 2013. Eudailey is recommending that the county hire those firefighters by the first week of December instead to reduce overtime costs.
Supervisors will vote on that proposal after the Fire and EMS Commission discusses it at its September meeting.
The board did approve the fire chief’s recommendation to promote an existing employee to a battalion chief position now instead of in November, as was originally planned. Eudailey said that promotion will save the county up to $16,000 in overtime costs.
In other business, supervisors voted to increase fees for ambulance service from $400 to $500 for basic life support; from $500 to $600 for advanced life support level 1; and from $675 to $800 for advanced life support level 2. All of those trips would also include an $11.50 fee per transport mile, which is $1.50 more than the current fee.
Spotsylvania residents shouldn’t notice the higher rates. Insurance providers are billed for ambulance trips. If the companies don’t cover the entire cost, residents will not have to pay the balance, County Administrator Doug Barnes said.
And the county has a compassionate billing policy that waives the fees for eligible patients without insurance.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402