County fire and rescue officials plan to hire two new personnel to make a dent in response times to emergency calls.
The new staff are expected to make it easier to consistently have four people to form a crew when answering calls, and have at least three personnel on a fire engine, according to Keith Greene, Louisa County Fire and EMS chief. When fewer than four staff or volunteers go to an emergency scene, they sometimes have to wait for a person to arrive before they can fight a fire or complete a rescue operation.
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors approved a budget transfer of $55,000 on Monday to hire two staff for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“This gives us three [firefighters] on engines on a more routine basis and gives us the ability to have another response team, which really helps reduce response times and no units available situations, which do occur,” Christian Goodwin, Louisa County administrator said.
The full-year cost of the two staff will depend on their qualifications when they are hired, he said.
Money to pay for the two positions will come from the $107,000 estimated annual savings as a result of the county’s recent insurance consolidation. The county now has a single insurance policy to cover all 11 volunteer fire and rescue agencies. Previously, each organization hired an insurance provider separately.
The supervisors’ vote to hire the new staff was 5-1, with Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road district) opposed. Toni Williams (Jackson district) was absent. Barlow questioned spending the insurance savings so quickly.
The hiring decision comes as the county recently learned its grant application to the federal government to hire 14 additional firefighters was denied. Greene said there was competition from across the country for the SAFER grant program.
Ironically, he said, the fact that Louisa retains a substantial base of 160 active volunteers in addition to career staff may have worked against the county. Some of Louisa’s neighboring counties have used SAFER grants in recent years to try to increase the number of volunteers, as well as to hire more paid staff. Localities have to indicate when they apply what they intend to use the money for.
Currently, shift lieutenants form part of a four-member crew going to or meeting at an emergency scene, Greene said. With the new staff on board, the lieutenants will travel to scenes in addition to the groups of four, and will be free to move about the county as needed.
“If [a lieutenant] gets a call, they could go and act as commanding officer on an incident, or provide whatever capacity is needed,” he said. “They’d be available to respond to any call in the county.”
Some of the fire stations, notably Zion Crossroads, currently have just three personnel on hand at any given time. Louisa and Mineral volunteer fire departments, located in the center of the county, are more likely to consistently have a combination of four career staff or volunteers.
“We wouldn’t be short-staffing the crew at” another station by sending a lieutenant to Zion Crossroads, Greene explained.
The new staff are sorely needed, he said, with the number of fire or rescue incidents for 2017 already over 5,000, and a gradual decline in the number of volunteers. The department answered 6,766 calls in 2016.