11 July 2012
An extensive evaluation of emergency services in Fluvanna County is underway following a decision by Louisa County to end mutual aid. As of July 5, Louisa County squads are no longer responding to mutual aid requests from Fluvanna. That decision by Louisa showed the need to reevaluate the area’s fire and rescue services.
Officials from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP) spent two days (June 29 and 30) in Fluvanna meeting with everyone who has anything to do with Fire and Emergency Services in the county.
The VDFP does about seven such comprehensive audits per year, and only at the request of the county or municipality, said Ken Brown, former fire-rescue chief and coordinator of Emergency Services for Goochland County and leader of Fluvanna’s study.
Fluvanna is one of a handful of rural counties in Virginia where fire and emergency services are performed solely by volunteers.
There are three groups covering Fluvanna: Fluvanna Volunteer Fire Department, with stations at Fork Union, Palmyra and Kents Store; Fluvanna Volunteer Rescue Squad, with stations in these same areas and Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad.
Recruiting, training and retaining volunteers, especially for the Fluvanna Rescue Squad, has become harder. Recruiting and training is difficult and time consuming and leaves existing staff to pick up more shifts.
Leonard Bozza, a member of the Lake Monticello Squad and the Fluvanna Fire and EMS committee, has repeatedly brought to the Board of Supervisors’ attention the staffing and response time issues.
This, in part, prompted the board to write and request the state study.
At the meeting with VDFP officials, County Administrator Steve Nichols said he hopes that when push comes to shove and there is a true need for mutual aid, such as a large fire or multi-vehicle, multi-victim accident, Louisa will come through.
“It’s the day to day kinds of runs where we’re at risk,” Nichols said.
Fluvanna Rescue Squad Chief James Davis said most mutual aid calls are for an Advanced Life Support (ASL) volunteer. None of the rescue squads have enough of these volunteers. ALS providers can do more in-field procedures than basic emergency medical technicians, such as starting IV’s.
“The bulk of the ALS assistance is them meeting our truck in the Zion Crossroads area,” Davis said.
A study showed Louisa and Scottsville departments take many more calls to Fluvanna than Fluvanna squads take to Louisa and Scottsville per the mutual aid agreement.
The VDFP study report, which is expected to come out in about six weeks, will give the Board of Supervisors a detailed list of the issues and possible solutions.
None of the suggestions are legally binding, said Matthew Smith, a VDFP policy and communications analyst.
“The purpose of a fire and EMS study is to provide an objective view of the fire and EMS services in a local jurisdiction, and to provide feedback on areas that are successful and areas that could use improvement,” the VDFP website states. “These studies provide localities recommendations to improve their jurisdiction’s fire and EMS service delivery.
The intent of fire and EMS study recommendations is to provide broad recommendations for the local jurisdiction to review and customize to the benefit of the citizens, organizations and the local jurisdiction.”
The team visited the dispatch center housed in the sheriff’s department. Before going into the call center, Sheriff Ryant Washington spoke with the team. Washington is also the acting EMS coordinator.
He said there are 10 dispatchers altogether, with two staffing each shift.
“They do 911 calls but they also act as the hub, the receptionist for the office,” Washington said. “It can be hectic sometimes.”
Washington said a concern of dispatchers is that when a fire or rescue policy or procedure is changed, it doesn’t filter down to them.
“The expectation is that the dispatcher should know it all,” he said.
On June 30, after the team’s first day of visits, they held a Town Hall meeting at Carysbrook for the public to bring up any concerns and weigh in on the issue.
Nichols said between 35 and 40 people showed up, and about half of those were from both the local Fire and EMS team and the study team.
Supervisor Joe Chesser (Rivanna) met with the study team Friday. He said there are many issues involved with fire and EMS service delivery in Fluvanna, and the most pressing issues tend to vary depending on who you talk to.
“The real problem is turnover in the rescue squad,” Chesser said.
“The concern of the public is, ‘What is the response time?’”
Brown said communication is key in every community he’s studied.
Over the years, many things have contributed to Fluvanna’s current situation:
- Increased population which increases call volumes.
- Diminished response times
- Funding issues, which include whether to enact a “fee for service” (billing a patient for the call through their insurance). If the patient doesn’t have insurance, the fee is waived.
- Recruiting and training enough volunteers to staff the stations appropriately
- Keeping the volunteers
- Stress between Lake Monticello and county squads
- Debate about whether to hire paid staff
- Fundraising to pay for equipment
- Adequate financial and moral support from the Board of Supervisors
Many jurisdictions have the same issues, Brown said.
In 2010, the VFDP did a study for Louisa County. A look at the recommendations shows that Fluvanna squads aren’t alone or unique.
The 2010 study showed Louisa lacked “a clear vision of where the county’s fire and EMS organizations are going.”
“Many volunteers are concerned that the county will take control of all fire and rescue operations and demand changes, which will lead to total control and the elimination of volunteers,” the report states.
“The inclusion of the volunteers in the development process of a vision statement is critical.”
The Louisa study also found the same type of strife among squads.
“The current delivery of fire and EMS services to the public is fragmented as a result of personality conflicts and ‘turf’ battles,” the report states.
In order to “build cohesion within the county to ensure a unified, team environment is fostered” the VDFP suggested the county hire staff to supplement coverage while the volunteers concentrate on providing consistent coverage for the times in the schedule when they have sufficient manpower available. The team said volunteers should be involved in hiring paid staff. They also suggested Louisa develop a program where volunteers from any department can cover anywhere in the county. Another recommendation was that all fire volunteers be cross-trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
The team suggested that the county should both establish an Operational Medical Director for all county EMS agencies, and that the county agencies all fall under one medical license.
Perhaps the most important recommendation from the report was “delivery of emergency services to the citizens should be the top priority for all administrative staff personnel.”
For more information on VDFP and to find the Louisa study go to: http://vdfp.us/virginia_fire_services_board/vfsb_studies.htm.