By Carol Vaughn — The Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted 6-3 to implement four recommendations made by Director of Public Safety Charles R. Pruitt about how to improve fire and rescue services in the county.
The board during a budget work session in February asked Pruitt to provide recommendations.
The four items “are not all-inclusive but rather the most significant in terms of impact on the existing service level and safety,” according to Pruitt.
The sticking point for the three supervisors, Donald Hart, Harris Phillips, and Paul Muhly, who voted against the measures was the second recommendation, to consolidate county fire medics by “strategically staffing core stations” with DPS personnel: including one 24-7 unit at Greenbackville; two each at Oak Hall, Parksley, Onancock, and Painter; and daytime staff only at Tangier.
That takes DPS staff out of Bloxom and Melfa, which now have them.
The move could increase safety on fire and EMS scenes and would provide more personnel in high call areas, according to Pruitt.
Pruitt noted there were 536 calls dispatched for motor vehicle crashes in Accomack in 2021, adding crash scenes would be safer if a fire truck were there as well as ambulances.
Two additional full-time positions are needed to implement the recommendation, at a cost of $171,000 to hire two fire medics and convert four daytime staff to 24-7.
Volunteer fire company representatives from Bloxom, Melfa, Parksley, Saxis, Tasley, Wachapreague, and Onancock spoke during a public comment period.
Corey Michael Dean, of Greenbackville, president of the local firefighters’ union, said 26 DPS employees left in the last five years, mainly for better pay. Dean said he himself is leaving DPS to work for Salisbury, where he will get a raise.
Pruitt “has the full support of the union,” he said.
The first recommendation is to establish a minimum volunteer training standard, which would apply to all volunteer firefighters.
No additional costs would be incurred because the training could be accomplished
through the existing fire academy, which is in the public safety department budget.
The standard would result in firefighters from different stations having the same training, which could improve safety on the scene, according to Pruitt.
The third recommendation is to align DPS employee pay with the salary of sheriff’s deputies, which Pruitt said would help recruit and retain employees.
“We’re not paying our fire medics enough,” he said, noting the department lost seven since January.
“Our competitors are actively seeking” Accomack fire medics, he said.
Pay bands are to be adjusted to align with new Virginia Compensation Board pay scales for deputies that take effect Aug. 1.
In a second, unanimous vote, on a motion by Hart, the board directed Pruitt to provide in August information about implementing the pay adjustment “immediately,” rather than waiting for next year’s budget.
Hart noted there is a $5 million balance in the county EMS fund, saying, “We need to give every one of our EMS their pay increase now.” Supervisor Robert Crocket asked County Administrator Mike Mason to explain the balance, which Mason did, saying the fund “is structurally imbalanced, so we are going to use the $5 million” in future years.
“Taxes are not bringing in enough money” to pay for DPS positions the board has approved, Crockett said.
The fourth recommendation is to standardize certain equipment among volunteer fire companies. That could include ambulances, EMS equipment, personal protective equipment, and self-contained breathing apparatus, among other items.
That will lessen frustration of career personnel having to learn multiple types of equipment used by different companies and result in safer and more efficient scene management, according to Pruitt.
“Providers make quick decisions while providing patient care (and) should not be hindered by different equipment,” Pruitt wrote in the presentation.
A work group will be assigned by the board of supervisors to develop and implement standards for equipment and training.
Some of the standards will need to be defined in the county’s funding agreement with the volunteer companies, according to Pruitt.