Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
Volunteers speak about expanded fire and rescue coverage
Last night, members of the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad addressed the Board of Supervisors, mainly to talk about the board’s recent decision to expand career fire and rescue coverage. To recap that decision (just in case you’re not dying to click the link and re-read my story), on Nov. 10, the board voted to hire 50 more people to boost coverage of the fire and rescue stations.
I’ve tried to be concise when reporting on this, but for clarity: The county is served by 10 fire companies and 10 rescue companies. But there aren’t 10 physical stations. In Co. 1, for example, there would be a rescue side and a fire side. Only Co. 5 serves in two separate buildings (for now). These stations have been staffed by career rescue workers and firefighters weekdays and volunteers on weekends and nights. Some of the stations have been staffed round-the-clock with career and volunteer staff. But about half have been spottily staffed during volunteer hours. In November, the board voted for the increased coverage, which will cost $5.5 million.
Here are the comments from last night’s meeting:
LeRon Lewis, chief of the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad:
So my question to each of you is how can the Fire & EMS Commission work in advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors and work toward 24/7 coverage if not first afforded the opportunity? As a commission member, I did not see that staffing proposal that the Board of Supervisors approved two weeks ago until it was already sent to the County Administrator and the Board. The Commission was not afforded an opportunity to work on or develop this plan that was presented. In my opinion it was done under the table and the Commission was blindsided. If the Board of Supervisors is going to adopt and approve a proposal to the tune of five and a half million dollars – wouldn’t you want to know what the Commission thinks of it? After all, the Commission is made up of stakeholders from all the volunteer agencies, the career staff, and hospitals. How can you adopt a plan in its entirety without any discussions or ideas of alternatives? So now I ask, what really is the purpose of the Commission? Obviously it’s not to act in an advisory capacity, because if so, the stakeholder group would have had their hands directly involved in this proposal and it would have been presented with the input of all groups – Career, Volunteer, and the hospitals. If the current Board thinks this is acceptable behavior then I suggest disbanding the Commission altogether. It obviously serves no point.
The proposal you approved states that rescue stations are not routinely covered at the Advanced Life Support Level. This statement was supported by a myriad of charts and graphs that show staffing. But what Chiefs Eudailey and Willaford failed to report was the staffing of EMT-Enhanced providers. These providers are certified and recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia as ALS providers. SVRS has nearly 20 Enhanced EMT’s that provide ALS care – that was not reported to you and was not included in the graphs and charts. Yes, there are gaps in ALS coverage – but the numbers you were given don’t correctly reflect those gaps.
The plan you voted and approved also states that the Volunteer EMS agencies do not provide EMS supervisors and this warrants the need for the creation of 3 EMS Field Supervisor Positions. Again, this is not a true statement as SVRS has 3 Chiefs and a First Lieutenant whose responsibilities include the direct oversight, management, and supervision of all SVRS personnel and EMS resources. These officers, which include myself, routinely, if not daily, respond to calls for service and do the exact same job that the proposal describes – for free – at no cost to the taxpayers. In my opinion there is no need for this position and that is why the County has Battalion Chiefs. Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad follows its chain of command and elected operational officers. The bottom line – you all approved a plan with no insight from the governmental body that was specifically created for this very purpose and without the input of the core stakeholders from Fire and EMS system along with inaccurate information.
In closing, as approved, this plan will cost the citizens $5.5 million dollars. But we know that’s just the start up cost; because additional funds will have to be allocated for uniforms, training, salaries, merit increases each year, and cost of living increases. Let’s ask what’s the real price tag – over the next 5 or 10 years. Great, we’ll have 24/7 coverage – too bad none of us will actually be able to afford to live in the County.
While reading the letter to the Board of Supervisors dated November 2, which reads more like the demands of a hostage-taker, I was reminded of how a crisis is created to push an emergency budget so all parties can throw their wish list into the ring.
After more than 22 years of federal service, I have learned to recognize the budget gimmick called “feeding at the trough.”
Here are two examples: The first demand is for a Fire and Life Safety Education Officer. A job already being performed within the fire rescue service. However this position seems far out of pace for our county.
Here’s why: Currently, the city of Boulder Colorado has an identical position open, with a population of 96,000 the city is offering a salary of $62,000.
Wilson County North Carolina also has a job opening. They have 90,000 residents and are paying $41,000 to $71,000. Spotsylvania County with a population only slightly higher at 110,000 is looking to pay $126,000 to remind residents to change batteries in their smoke detectors and when to call 9-1-1.
The second example:
Currently there are just short of 120 ground troops,the firefighter medics in the county. They are represented by a chief, a deputy chief and 3 battalion chiefs. The demands are for 35 new ground troops and 4 new battalion chiefs. So a 29% increase in the men on the street requires a 133% percent increase in the
guys behind a desk. This demand sounds more like payback to friends and co-conspirators. The salaries represented for these new chiefs conveniently omits the $40,000 SUV each chief will require as well as benefits and retirement. So the true costs of all these positions essentially becomes hidden from the public.
I don’t expect the residents of this county will ever know about the true costs of these expenditures, they’ll simply be told the huge increase in personal property taxes will ensure better fire and ems coverage. Essentially, “stop asking questions, we know what’s best.”
It seems particularly appropriate that this discussion falls during the holiday season as this list of emergency budget demands reads more like a Christmas wish list which has just been waiting to be addressed.
The blind drive to follow a Fairfax County Model of emergency services without a Fairfax County taxbase will be a recipe for financial disaster and is nothing short of a fraud being forced onto the citizens of the county in the name of progress and safety.
It is my hope that this information is presented to the residents in equal measure to the cheerleading for 24/7 coverage that the fire union’s media wing, the Free Lance Star, has been doing for the last two years.
A commercial pilot, registered nurse, law enforcement, career ff/medic, engineer, builder, electrician, Army, Navy, and Air Force– these represent a few of the members of Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad. The same people Chief Bailey said at the fire and rescue commission meeting, Reported by Ms. Umbel, printed in the Free Lance Star: they said volunteers don’t want to train. I was not at that meeting I was on vacation from my real job training to be a better volunteer. I wasn’t there alone I was surrounded by volunteers, each taking their personal time to attend training.
I take offense when I hear that I don’t like to train – I have a bachelors in mathematics and computer science, I have a master’s in engineering. I am an EMT-Intermediate, ACLS, PALS, CPR, ITLS, MCIM 1&2, HAZMAT Awareness, Vehicle Awareness, FFI, ICS 100, 200, 700 and 800 certified. I also am an instructor for EMT-B, CPR, MCIM I&II and ITLS. How can Chief Bailey say I don’t like to train? My schedule is filled with taking or teaching classes each month. I have never attended nor taught an empty class. I am lucky to have a flexible schedule that allows me to take a lot of classes. Not all of our members are that lucky. Volunteers don’t get to leave their 9-5 jobs to take mandatory classes. Or request dispatch to put next due on calls while they attend training. Volunteers take training evening and weekends. The same time used to spend with family and volunteer for our community. We do it because we love and enjoy it – we want to volunteer for our community.
FREM training statistics are misleading.Members of SVRS took a class on 21JUN11 – 5 months later the county still showed them as delinquent.Classes listed as a mandatory, yet don’t exist. Classes listed as required will not be offered in FY12.
FREM was asked to post classes 60-90 days in advance; Chief Bailey said that is impossible. Across the country including SVRS we are able to plan and post courses 60-90 days in advance. I am not sure why such a simple request cannot be met.
The classes highlighted as missing are HAZMAT & Vehicle Awareness and ICS series. Good EMT-B instructors are already teaching their students the majority of this information. These classes do not teach us how to assist in rescuing someone from a fire, treating your chest pain nor difficulty breathing. These classes teach how to keep us (the volunteers) safe. The first thing taught in EMT-B is your own safety followed by that of your crew. These required classes are building block classes; they reinforce what has already been taught; all providers have the basics.
All of our released members have EVOC, EMT-B or higher certification. We do not have unqualified people out on the streets – that is a misconception that I would like to clear up.