Rescue crisis

Emergency Services Coordinator Cheryl Wilkins presented three paths of action.  Most agreed that option one – maintain status quo – was not a viable choice given that Fluvanna Rescue has only four or five active members.  But opinions diverged widely over option two – have Fluvanna Fire absorb Fluvanna Rescue and become Fluvanna Fire and Rescue – and option three – have Lake Monticello Rescue take over all rescue operations in the county.  Some disliked all three choices.

Much of the conflict stems from deeply-held loyalties for different areas of the county and a passion for beloved methods of operation.  Given that all of fire and rescue services in the county, excepting the current rescue contract crew, are provided by much-needed volunteers, a sensitivity to and respect for the persuasions of volunteers is mandatory for county decision makers.

On Dec. 3 supervisors tasked FRA with finding a solution to the rescue crisis within 60 days.  At first the FRA asked Lake Monticello Rescue to put together a plan detailing an absorption of Fluvanna Rescue, Wilkins said, but in subsequent meetings option two started making a comeback.

“There’s not consensus either way,” said Supervisor Mike Sheridan.

“What you’ve got is the status quo, which has been the status quo since before I got here: ‘We’re going to continue to think about it,’” said County Administrator Steve Nichols.  “We cannot endlessly fund extra equipment, supplies, and budgets… I don’t think they’re going to get one [consensus].”

Len Bozza, president of Lake Monticello Fire & Rescue Squad, told the Board his organization could take over Fluvanna Rescue if necessary, though he didn’t relish the thought.  He believes county volunteerism will diminish if folks perceive that they are joining the Lake’s organization.  John Lye, chief of water rescue and assistant chief of operations for Lake Monticello Rescue, said that adding a layer of infrastructure and administration to Lake Rescue would uncomfortably stretch the organization.  He favored preserving tradition and identity with option two.

But Mike Brent, county chief of Fluvanna Fire, was emphatically against the idea of his organization absorbing Fluvanna Rescue.  “I don’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize the Fluvanna County fire department organization,” he said.  “It bothers me that this whole thing has been dumped on our lap to do something.”

Andrew Pullen, chief of Kents Store fire, supported the merger of Fluvanna Fire and Rescue but foresaw option three resulting in Lake and county volunteers “butting heads” over showers, bunks, and other day-to-day necessities.

“It’s time for everyone in the service to grow up and face what’s important for the residents in this county,” countered Bozza, and “set aside our differences… It’s time to put our big boots on…and address the issue.  Just listen to what’s going on!  Everyone’s worried about this and that, who’s going to get along with who.  How about the citizens of Fluvanna County?  [They] should be getting responses of ambulances from four different locations – not two, not one – four.”

“Why do we need ambulances in four different locations?” asked Nichols.  “Can we afford that and is it needed?”

As the meeting progressed it became clear that consensus among fire and rescue personnel will be virtually impossible.  “If you can’t come to [a] conclusion, and I mean fast, then the five of us have got to make the decision,” warned Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch.  “That’s the way it goes.”

Bozza said he understood why the Board was reluctant to make the decision by fiat, preferring consensus.  But, he said, though “you keep throwing it back to the FRA to do it, the FRA is unable to do it.”

“Why can’t you make a recommendation to us?” asked Chairperson Mozell Booker.  “You could have come to us tonight and said, ‘This is the recommendation we have [for] you, Board.’”

But the FRA has been unable to agree on a path forward.  And Bozza reminded supervisors of their abilities to intervene.  “The only power you have is the power of the purse,” he said.  “You budget all of this.  And you have the power to authorize us to respond to emergencies.  If you don’t authorize it…the Lake…couldn’t respond to any emergencies.  You have the same power to revoke Fluvanna Rescue’s authorization to respond… And if the FRA can’t get to a point that they come to you with a viable solution that you’re satisfied with, the only way you’re going to force it is through the power of the purse or revoking authorization to respond.”

“So we’ll have to get to that,” Booker said.

Supervisors tasked the FRA with returning on May 6 with full recommendations for how to proceed.  Whether or not the FRA reaches consensus, supervisors said, the Board will need to come to a decision.

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