By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer
In Palmyra, you will still dial 9-1-1 to get help but the way Fluvanna County Emergency Services organizationally responds to such a call is about to change. At a Dec. 3 work session, the Board of Supervisors and the Fluvanna Fire and Rescue Association (FFRA) met to figure out ways to improve the rescue organization. Currently, Fluvanna’s emergency services is broken down to: Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire & Rescue, Fluvanna Volunteer Fire, and Fluvanna County Rescue.
All rescue or fire will respond if called for assistance but squads within each department have ‘first due’ areas. For example, Palmyra Volunteer Fire Department responds to fires in the Palmyra area because that is its first due. But if a situation in Fork Union needs assistance and Fork Union Fire cannot respond or needs help, Palmyra will still respond. The rescue operations works similarly.
Fluvanna Rescue is short on volunteers. During the day, a paid staff handles the operations. In total, the organization only has less than 30 volunteers.
The work session was set up to figure out ways to help alleviate Fluvanna Rescue department’s stress.
First, the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay for one nighttime crew to help with staffing issues. Secondly, the FFRA and the Board of Supervisors agreed to start planning on combining Fluvanna Rescue and Lake Monticello Rescue into just Lake Monticello Rescue. FFRA will report back in two months with how that will be done operationally.
This will help with recruitment of volunteers, certification, staffing and training. Some of these operations are done co-currently but because they are registered with the state as two organizations, they double up on work. Again, Fluvanna Rescue is stretched so thin of volunteers and that has caused administration issues.
“Response times are concerning,” said supervisors Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District). The average response time was 30 minutes at night. If Lake Monticello is called to Bremo Bluff, even if the squad was full of volunteers and at the garage door when the call came in, it still takes at least 20 minutes to get to the location.
In an ideal world, Fluvanna would be able to pay for four stations to be staffed with professionals. Just staffing one station 24 hours a day, seven days a week would be over $300,000 a year. Fluvanna has professionally staffed one station for 12 hours a day for part of last fiscal year and all of this fiscal year.
“We cannot fiscally staff all our stations,” said supervisors Mike Sheridan (Columbia District), who also serves as a volunteer firefighter and rescue squad member. Steve Nichols, county administrator, said, “The only way to get help immediately is contract services.”
To help immediately with the call times, the supervisors authorized the aforementioned payment of nighttime hours by contracted staff. The motion put a stipulation of no more than $150,000 and monies come from the General Fund Balance.
The second way to help the response times is more volunteers. In order to do that and stop doubling work, FFRA agreed with the supervisors to consolidate the rescue squads from the two organizations into just Lake Monticello. The idea, Lake Monticello Rescue would then have stations throughout the county.
Also, part of the consolidation is having the rescue squad move into fire department buildings when possible. Currently, the rescue squad has aging buildings.
Fire Chief Mike Brent said rescue squad vehicles can be housed in the fire stations through a memorandum of understanding. That will not be a long-term solution because the fire stations do not have the room.
Within 60 days the FFRA will present a proposal to combine the rescue organizations. This will also help if Fluvanna institutes emergency services billing, which appears something that will come next fiscal year.
With emergency services billing, the county has to have one billing system for each rescue organization. If there are two organizations, there has to be two administrative procedures for billing. This would take away from the benefit of billing.
The idea of billing for rescue squad trips has been discussed recently and this upcoming tough fiscal year budget might push it over the edge. Also, research shows there are ways to do ‘compassionate billing’ where basically only insurance companies or those that can pay actually pay.
Sheridan talked to one county that says they send one bill then a second time. If it isn’t paid the second time, the situation closes. Ullenbruch has repeatedly said he doesn’t want an emergency services billing program that sends bills to collections or requires residents to prove they cannot pay.
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Photo Credits: NBC29, Fluvanna County