Thursday, November 3, 2016

Who ya gonna call?

The agenda of the Tuesday, November 1 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors contained an item that will sadden the hearts of many. Goochland Fire-Rescue asked to accelerate hiring of two additional fire-rescue staff from July 1, to January 1, 2017.

The request was prompted by letters received earlier in the year from the volunteer District Chiefs of Manakin Company 1 and Centerville Company 3 that they can no longer supply core levels of staffing. They asked to have career providers deployed at their stations to supplement volunteers.

In 2013, the supervisors approved a ten-year staffing plan that would gradually add paid fire-rescue providers on a schedule predicated on volunteer participation levels remaining steady at 2013 levels. According to Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay, volunteer participation has declined 38.35 per cent in the last three years.

MacKay said that in 2013, there were 412 volunteers on the books countywide, including auxiliary members and drivers. By 2015, the number had dwindled to 346, with only 55.96 percent of those in call responding positions.

Fire-Rescue volunteers are the embodiment of community self-reliance, a hallmark of rural character. Transitioning to career life safety service is a sign that things are changing.

Reasons for this decline are many. Fewer people have the time or inclination to commit to what is essentially a demanding second unpaid job. Newcomers to the county are less likely to volunteer for fire-rescue service, and most volunteers work elsewhere. It’s hard to be up half the night responding to 911 calls and be on your job bright and early the next morning. There are other reasons for the volunteer fall off. Visit your local fire-rescue station and talk to the incredible people who freely give of their time and talents to save lives and protect property in Goochland.

Before the discussion on staffing, the supervisors approved a fire-rescue request to use cost recovery funds to purchase video laryngoscopes for each of the county’s front line ambulances. These devices help advanced life support EMS providers quickly and safely intubate patients to establish an airway and keep them breathing during transport to a hospital, which can be a long trip from Goochland.

This illustrates that the pre-hospital emergency care delivered by our amazing EMS volunteers is increasingly complex, requiring many hours of training over and above on duty hours.

As MacKay told the supervisors, Goochland is not alone in its volunteer staffing predicament. Last year, Rockville’s volunteer fire company closed. Residents of northeastern Goochland/western Hanover have raised concerns about the dearth of available EMS units in this area.

MacKay said that filling career fire-rescue positions has been challenging as Goochland competes with Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, which have large departments and deeper pockets. The recruitment process includes written and agility testing and a stringent background investigation. MacKay said that there are often many “no shows” for the testing, but those that do participate have high pass rates; the background check, not so much.

Due to two existing vacancies, money is available to fund the additional positons with no extra funding needed from the county. Revenues generated by the cost recovery program, which charges insurance for EMS hospital transport based on distance and level of care, help fund career positions.

MacKay said that approval of additional providers will enable deployment of 24/7 EMS crews at four of the county’s six fire-rescue stations, to be augmented by volunteers when possible. He hopes to have all approved positions filled early in 2017. The Chef hopes that the current pool of 71 applicants will yield at least four well-qualified employees.

Supervisor Ned Creasey, District 3, hospitalized to attend to health matters attended the meeting electronically. Creasey, who is also a Fire-Rescue life member, offered to work with MacKay to expedite background checks.

A request for additional career fire-rescue providers in the budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins next July 1, seems likely.

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