The Fluvanna County Rescue Squad (FCRS) took the first step toward giving ownership of their rescue squad building in Palmyra to the county on Aug. 4 with an overwhelming vote from their membership.

Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors must vote on whether to accept this offer, and legal documents transferring the property from the FCRS to Fluvanna County must be drawn up; but at the meeting it seemed very possible that the county will take ownership – and responsibility for maintenance and improvements – in the near future.

At the heart of the issue is maintenance of and improvements to the existing rescue facilities in Fluvanna. While Fluvanna County currently owns and maintains all of the firehouses outside of Lake Monticello, the FCRS buildings belong to the organization, and the cost of the upkeep and the work itself is up to the membership to handle – meaning the volunteers, in addition to running emergency medical calls, must also hold fundraisers to raise the money for improvements and repairs and must often do the work themselves.

Fire Chief Mike Brent was on hand to describe the relationship between the county and the fire department for the members of FCRS.  “I would say it has been a great marriage,” Brent said.  He added that any time there was work that needed to be done at the facility, the county was very responsive in having repairs made in a thorough and efficient manner.

FCRS has seen its volunteer membership dwindle over recent years – so much so that the county has entered into a contract with the University of Virginia to have professionals run calls in the county when volunteers are not available.  There now are simply not enough volunteers on hand to do the extra work of building maintenance.

FCRS President James Stafford said, “Over the last three or four years, a lot of things have gotten more cumbersome – more complicated – with more moving parts and more requirements.  We are trying to get out of managing building maintenance and focus on what we need to do – which is provide rescue service to the county.”
Stafford spoke in favor of giving the buildings to the county. “We are trying to get our own volunteer crews up to provide [rescue] service; we shouldn’t be worried about who is cutting the grass, or who will repair a leak in the building,” he said.  I think we should turn the facilities over to the county and let them be our facility manager.”
County Administrator Steve Nichols pointed out that the county would not only respond to facility needs, they would also contract for and schedule routine maintenance. “What we don’t have the expertise to do is to run rescue calls or train people to run them,” Nichols explained. “We don’t have any capability in the county to do the clinical part of what you do – but trucks and buildings?  That is our area of strength.”

More than just routine maintenance is at stake; attractive, comfortable buildings help organizations like FCRS retain their volunteers.  “A good comfortable place for volunteers is important,” Brent said.  “At Palmyra Firehouse, there is a good commercial kitchen where they can cook; they have the dorm room, a comfortable day room; that makes a difference and makes the volunteers want to stay.”

Stafford was pleased with how the vote went.  “I think there is a lot of...sentimental value in all of the rescue buildings,” he said. “Is it all warranted?  Yes. As Mr. [Jack] Feathers said, there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into these buildings.  But, as Mr. Nichols said, times have changed as well. We need to keep up with the times, so therefore I think the vote for Station 1 [Palmyra] was appropriate. I’m pleased with the way it went, and we will have to see how the other two stations go.”

Nichols addressed a concern expressed by one member that if the building and equipment became the county’s property, county leaders would choose to go with all professional rescue staff.  “It is 100 percent... the opposite,” Nichols said.  “There is no reason whatsoever to push volunteers out – we want to pull volunteers in! We want to push paid crew out – not because we don’t like them or they don’t do good work – but why pay for something when you’ve got willing, talented, capable volunteers in the community?”