CRC surveys fire, rescue depts.

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) is in the process of receiving surveys from area fire departments and rescue squads, and deliberating about the potential for a forum featuring volunteers to discuss challenges facing these agencies.

Melody Foster

CRC Executive Director Melody Foster said during a meeting Sept. 19 that seven fire departments and two rescue squads responded to the surveys from the CRC, meant to find the specific challenges and strengths of area fire departments and rescue squads. More responses are expected, Foster said.

She said the CRC would report the results back the following month.

Foster said in the survey, she requested copies of the fire/rescue squads’ mutual aid agreement. Participants recommended contacting their counties for copies of the mutual aid agreements.

Questions on the survey include how many paid personnel each department has, if departments respond to aid in neighboring counties and if departments have a verbal or written mutual aid agreement with surrounding counties. Representatives also had the opportunity to provide additional comments or concerns.

CRC members discussed increasing incentives for volunteers, increasing education for the public about how fire departments and rescue squads operate, potentially holding a forum featuring area fire and rescue service members and speculation of a future where, potentially, all fire and rescue squads would have paid personnel, where volunteers would be a thing of the past.

Dr. Nancy Carwile, Red House/Cullen District Supervisor and CRC member, said challenges facing fire departments and rescue squads include the mounting costs of keeping up their equipment, particularly the trucks.

“That’s the economy,” Carwile said about the higher cost of maintaining equipment. She said donations of the past are not quite up to meeting what different fire and rescue departments need now.

“($25) … might have been OK for 1950, but it’s not (now),” Carwile said.

Thomas Gleason, chairman of the Amelia County Board of Supervisors, speculated of what could be volunteer fire and rescue departments’ near future: fully paid staffs.

“In the next 10 years, it’s going to be mandatory, either state or federal, to pay these employees, and they become a part of your county and the state payroll, that’s just the way it’s going to be,” Gleason said. “Volunteers are going to be a thing of the past.”

Dunnavant and Prince Edward County Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons presented two different viewpoints about the increase in training needed to become a fire department or rescue squad member.

“It genuinely seems like the rulemakers that are making the rules for participating in the volunteer fire departments, made them with the intent of squeezing the volunteers out,” Dunnavant said. “Otherwise, why make those rules that are exclusionary? Or prohibitive in getting there.”

Timmons, presenting another viewpoint, said volunteers without the proper training can’t help themselves or anyone else if they don’t understand how the operations work.

Carwile and Foster emphasized the importance of educating the public about the departments, particularly that many of the fire departments and rescue squads in one’s backyards are run by volunteers. Dwindling volunteer levels could mean trouble for property owners.

“There’s a lot of education involved in all of this that’s not happening,” Carwile said.

Foster said one fireman in particular suggested the CRC put together a forum where they could all come together.

“It would be a discussion but maybe something could evolve from that,” Foster said.