More paid staff for fire, emergency services floated by Clarke committee

Posted: December 3, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — Clarke County’s Fire and Emergency Services Work Group began crafting recommendations for the Board of Supervisors Monday night.

The committee was created after the chief of Berryville’s John H. Enders Fire and Rescue Company asked for more paid personnel because only a few members were still running emergency calls and those left were suffering from burnout.

The committee members worked their way through part of a list of issues discussed over several months of twice-a-month meetings.

All agreed that the county needs an emergency services coordinator.

The committee had a list of duties a person in such a position could fill, although Supervisor David Weiss said he was concerned that the volunteers who own and staff the county’s three fire companies would see the move as a “takeover” of their stations.

However, one member of the Boyce Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company said the position would take “a massive burden off the four fire chiefs [including Mount Weather], all volunteers, and the paid staff.”

Other recommendations that made the cut included adding more paid staff, which is a direct cost to the county.

The committee suggested hiring enough staff to have paid personnel on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Currently, paid staff only work Monday through Friday, during the day.

However, the committee called on volunteer fire personnel to provide a driver for an ambulance to back up the paid emergency medical technician for medical calls.

They also want a staffing plan to be created to make the best use of the paid staff, and suggested this could be a job for a new emergency services coordinator to undertake. But, if that position is not created, then county staff or a consultant should undertake it.

Weiss noted that many of the recommendations will “change the dynamic of what we have now,” with fire and rescue service provided primarily by volunteers.

If the county provides more paid staff and more money, “that’s a pretty significant shift,” he said.

However, Weiss told several of the volunteers who attended the meeting that “the system has outgrown the way it was.”

Work group Chairwoman Laure Wallace said the rest of the list will be tackled Monday.

Attending the meeting in the Joint Government Center were Chairwoman Laure Wallace and members Randy Buckley, School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth “Beth” Leffel, Berryville Police Chief Neal White and Supervisor David Weiss. Member Jay Braithwaite was absent.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com