Prince George unifies fire and EMS services
By Ashley McLeod, Staff Writer
Jul 25, 2014, 13:30
PRINCE GEORGE — Followed with mixed responses from the audience, the Prince George Board of Supervisors approved a proposal at Tuesday night’s meeting which would establish a coordinated fire and emergency medical service system.
The proposal, which was first presented in February by County Administrator Percy Ashcraft, will allow for a county-appointed official to preside over the operations of both the county employed and volunteers members of both organizations.
“The proposal was designed to centralize authority for the fire and ems systems, yet preserve the integrity and the necessity of the volunteer operations without losing the identity of the individual companies,” Ashcraft said.
The proposal also creates a more formal fire and EMS board, which will be compromised of the highest ranking individuals for each volunteer organization. The head of this board would be the director of Fire and EMS, Brad Owens.
According to Ashcraft, the ordinance closely resembles one used in Albemarle County. The ordinance is one of the many approved models recognized in the Virginia code.
“It’s a model that has been set out in state code, a model for a coordinated fire and EMS system,” said County Attorney Steve Micas.
The coordinated system allows for the Fire and EMS chief, who is appointed by the board, to manage and supervise duties, responsibilities, and actions of the fire and EMS departments, both county employed and volunteers.
The coordinated system will include the Prince George Volunteer Fire Department, Company 1, the Disputanta Volunteer Fire Department, Company 2, the Carson Volunteer Fire Department, Company 3, the Burrowsville Volunteer Fire Department, Company 4, the Jefferson Park Volunteer Fire Department, Company 5, and the Prince George Emergency Crew. it will also create a new volunteer organization, with volunteers which will offer their services, but not be directly assigned to a particular company.
All of the departments will work together in order to function better for the community. One resident in favor of the ordinance used the phrase “unity of effort through unified command” to describe why this plan was needed in Prince George.
“Everybody needs to be on the same page, and everybody needs to work together,” said Nancy Loven, of Hopewell.
The hopes behind creating this organized and coordinated new system is for the response teams to be more organized, and perform their duties to the community in a more efficient and organized manner.
The ordinance also creates a board inside of the coordinated groups which would be responsible for communication and collaboration between the groups, provide input on budgets and reports, and advise the director on issues within the departments as well as normal operations.
“I think we’re on the verge of making a greater change with this ordinance, getting the proper management system in Prince George. The county puts a lot of tax dollars in the fire and EMS service, and we need s management system,” said resident Benton Woodruff Jr.
But some community members believe there is no need for such a system in the county.
Kevin Foster, a member of Prince George Fire Department, Company 1, is a 30-year veteran. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Foster brought attention to the fact that there is already someone in charge of the department, and is doing an excellent job in the position.
“We do have someone in Mr. Owens that we can call on, on a day-to-day basis, and get help and answers to questions,” Foster said.
Foster’s brother, Reid, also volunteers in Prince George. Both Fosters also rose question to the creation of a new volunteer group. Kevin Foster brought attention to the fact that each volunteer organization had $10,000 cut from their budgets, and questioned where the money to train and equip these new volunteers would come from.
“Why shouldn’t they be assigned a company or fire and EMS house in the area?” questioned Kevin.
“If those people want to volunteer, they should be assigned to a station. You’re doing nothing but sticking a knife in our back when you do that,” Reid Foster said.
He also added that another problem with the ordinance seemed to lie in the appointed board that would be created.
“The board ... it needs to be created with county citizens. That board, with the highest ranking officers, should be residents of the county,” Foster said.
A good amount of volunteers for the different departments are not county residents, but come from the surrounding areas to help out. If they are higher ranking than county residents, they would be chosen for the board inside of the coordinated Fire and EMS system.
The idea for this coordinated system has been pushed around in the county for a long time, and some community members are just ready for an answer.
“This has been reviewed and reviewed and changed over and over and over,” said Larry McClung, who has volunteered for almost 30 years with the Jefferson Park Volunteer Fire Department, and was also a past chief.
“It comes up every year, and it’s time to act already. It’s time to put someone in that position and let them represent this county,” McClung said.
According to Chairman Bill Robertson, what is outlined in the ordinance will just formalize things that are already happening in the Fire and EMS departments. Before, there was no formal path saying what to do or how to do it, and this ordinance will formalize these aspects of the departments.
Supervisor Alan Carmichael proposed a motion to table the ordinance for vote until the next supervisors meeting, in order to ensure that every chief and member of the different departments understood what exactly the new ordinance would change for them.
“I’m requesting that we take action at next board meeting. Then I would know we’re working off the same page and I would know we covered everything in fairness to Mr. Owens so that he goes in to this with everyone knowing and understanding what the job duties are,” Carmichael said.
In a vote of 3-2, the motion failed. Carmichael and supervisor Henry Parker voted for tabling the ordinance, in order to make sure everyone understood the wording and meaning of the ordinance.
The ordinance was then passed in a vote of 3-2, with Carmichael and Parker against, creating the new, coordinated system. Full wordage of the approved system can be found on the Prince George Board of Supervisor’s website.