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Fire study highlights areas to improve

Fire study highlights areas to improve

There is work to do in Greene County regarding the county’s fire and emergency communications departments, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors last week.

Greene County is serviced by three volunteer fire companies: Stanardsville; Ruckersville; and Dyke. There is a county-operated rescue department which went into service in October 2020. The sheriff’s office operates the E-911 center.

The primary issues, according to the report, are: dearth of uniform professional language; performance standards; operational terminology; operational policies; and training standards.

Mike Jones, president of Major Security Consulting & Design LLC, has reviewed the county’s public safety systems for the past year and told supervisors that while he found deficiencies, nothing is unfixable.

“What it takes is a plan; it takes leadership and it takes commitment to understand that we truly are a team,” Jones said at the Nov. 9 regular meeting.

A critical problem, Jones said, is the public safety entities in Greene do not share a common language for calls for service terminology. Jones recommended supervisors mandate the terminology through a public safety ordinance, utilizing national standards.

Additionally, upgraded technology is needed at the Emergency Communications Center, as well as increased staffing for the center.

“The Emergency Communications Center is running consistent overtime—for months and months on end,” Jones said. “Dispatchers are working significant amounts of overtime and then over time—especially in emergency communications—that causes errors.”

Jones recommended a staffing study be completed for E-911 with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, due to the ever increasing use of technology, Jones recommended an Information Technology (IT) study for the county. A full-time IT person was hired in fiscal year 2022.

Both of these changes will assist the county in receiving accurate real-time data, Jones said.

Training is also a big issue in Greene, he told supervisors.

“Greene County is a training desert,” Jones said. “(First-responders) have to travel many miles away after working eight or 10 hours, sit in a class, come back to Greene and go to work the next day. The fire staff is exhausted.”

However, there are volunteers with the departments that are not certified at the minimum Firefighter I level, Jones said.

“If a firefighter lacks certification, there are certain duties that they are not allowed to perform,” he said. “Our fire departments are in danger of dropping below the mandated number of 20 effective members.”

Jones said to be effective the individuals must be certified and trained and if the company does not have 20—according to code—it must be taken out of service or combined with another company until the minimum qualifications are met.

Joint trainings with emergency medical service personnel, firefighters and deputies were also recommended, as was the construction of a joint training facility to serve all the departments. Additionally, Jones recommended increased emphasis on recruitment.

Jones also addressed what he called a critical infrastructure failure: dysfunctional fire hydrants.

“And that’s the nicest way I can say it,” he said. “Fire chiefs said there are hydrants that don’t work. I’ve tried myself by phone and by writing Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) about it.”

RSA is the county’s water and sewer authority, which was jointly created with Orange and Madison counties in 1969.

Jones said as he looked into the situation he found hydrants that were hidden from view by long-term accumulation of brush and trees, faded paint and those at least partially blocked by dirt and debris. He said departments and the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) don’t know the exact location of the hydrants in the county and whether they are working.

“By default, the condition of many hydrants that were observed clearly indicated that they had not been serviced, properly flushed or had their valves exercised in a long time,” Jones said. “The Emergency Communications Center needs to know on a daily basis the status of each and every hydrant. My observation of the existing condition of many hydrants is that they have been obscenely neglected. I checked with ECC and they have no idea about the functional status of any hydrant and cannot recall ever being told by RSA of a hydrant being out of service.”

Jones recommended new terms of agreement between Greene County and RSA that address that issue.

Finally, Jones said the county departments will be unable to manage multiple fires or other emergency events simultaneously due to low staffing.

“Based on historical staffing deficiencies and the projection that they will only worsen over time, the volunteer fire departments will be unable to fight multiple fires or emergency events or a combination of cascading emergencies that occur simultaneously,” Jones said.

Jones said the issues facing Greene County go back to rapidly increased population growth as well as declining numbers of volunteers across the nation.

He recommended a paid fire chief be hired to help with planning for the future needs of Greene County.

At-Large Supervisor Dale Herring, who is liaison to the county’s Emergency Services Advisory Board, said the process of looking at the current state of public safety began because the volunteers requested it in 2019 and the supervisors approved it. He noted the board has recently created subcommittees, including one for recruitment and one for training.

“We still have a long ways to go and I think this board, as we enter the next budget cycle, will be very conscious of what this report is telling us, what we need to do to accomplish these goals,” Herring said. “I think we should develop a long-range plan.”

Monroe Supervisor Steve Bowman said he believes it starts with training and supporting the volunteers.

“Many comments have been made that we’re trying to do away with the volunteers … which is wrong,” Bowman said. “I believe we need to support them in a different way than we’ve ever done before.”

The Emergency Services Advisory Board was expected to discuss the study at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 16, which is after press time. The board meets the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the county administration building and meetings are live-streamed.

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Editor, Greene County Record

Terry Beigie is the Editor of the Greene County Record in Stanardsville. She can be reached at tbeigie@greene-news.com or (434) 985-2315.

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