Rockbridge County leaders make push for countywide Fire-EMS depa - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Rockbridge County leaders make push for countywide Fire-EMS department, new director

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Fire and EMS services in Rockbridge County have long been 100 percent volunteer.  But now, county leaders are making a push to change that.

You see them out on the front lines, battling fires and saving lives.  But Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter says few people realize what the county's independent volunteer fire and EMS force has to do daily behind the scenes.

"They have to fundraise, they have to get their own training, they have to provide their own coordination between departments," said Suter.

It's work that quickly piles up, which is why many of those agencies came to him last year and asked for some help.

Suter put together a committee made up of county leaders, representatives of the local fire and EMS associations, and the public -- and together they came up with a plan to put all 12 volunteer agencies under one countywide department headed by a new Fire and EMS Director.

"It is my hope that this position will bring some cohesiveness to the overall service and be a sounding board for volunteer leaders," said Suter.  

The Director would be responsible for most of the administrative work like standardizing policies across all of the agencies, coming up with ways to recruit and retain volunteers, coordinating responses between the agencies, and applying for grants to help the agencies get more money.

Volunteer fire departments WSLS 10 spoke to say this has been a long time coming.

"It'll be a very good thing for all of the departments in the county," said Mike Mohler, Assistant Chief of the Natural Bridge Volunteer Fire Department.  "It's going to take a load off of the volunteers, it's going to help out with a lot of upper management stuff.  It's definitely a good idea."

The committee has also recommended the new director be allowed to hire full-time, paid firefighters and EMT's.  

Suter says no one denies the dedication of the volunteers -- and that they'll always be a critical piece of the county's fire and EMS service.  But both he and some of the volunteer chiefs acknowledge it's becoming harder to keep things all volunteer.  

Call volumes are going up, as are the time requirements and costs of training and certification programs volunteers have to go through -- and volunteers still have to find the time for their families and normal jobs.

"I think on the EMS side, [career staff] is going to happen in the not too distant future," said Suter.  "It's going to have to because we do have folks that are tired.

The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors will hold a public meeting on the issue during their meeting Monday, September 9.  If they ultimately sign off on everything, Suter hopes to have a Director of Fire and EMS hired by early 2014.

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