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Albemarle budget now includes increased fire-rescue staff

Albemarle County is now planning to hire additional fire and rescue staff to meet an increasing need and a decreasing number of volunteers.

At a budget work session Wednesday, Albemarle County Fire Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston outlined a plan to utilize cross staffing and dynamic staffing, along with new positions, to better cover the county.

“We think we have a great opportunity to maximize the use of staff assigned to these stations using two strategies,” he said.

In the initial proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, ACFR would have reallocated weekday, daytime fire-rescue staff from Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company and East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company to the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and Pantops Public Safety Station to assist Crozet with a decrease in the number of volunteers and meet system-wide response time standards and call volume. The public pushed back on that plan, citing safety concerns.

The new proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 — which has been adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic — includes $168,872 for the first year of matching funds with a possible Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for 10 positions to provide weekday, daytime fire staffing at the Crozet and Pantops stations. The new proposed budget also includes about $1.9 million for a fire engine and two ambulances.

An additional 12 positions to provide 24-7 Advanced Life Support EMS coverage at the Ivy and Pantops stations have been included in both proposed fiscal year 2021 budgets.

Eggleston said by using a reserve ambulance and cross-staffing, Stony Point could get a daytime ambulance as early as July. Then in September 2021, East Rivanna could get a daytime ambulance.

Cross-staffing is when staff at the station would be trained to use an ambulance or fire engine, depending on the call. Eggleston said ACFR has been using this method at Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company for about eight years.

“By placing ambulances in those low call volume areas, we get two benefits from this — it improves our response times to those areas in terms of EMS, but it also increases overall ambulance availability by keeping those urban, high-volume call ambulances in the urban areas instead of running out to the rural areas.”

During dynamic staffing, a staff member would be relocated from one station to another depending on need, reducing the station to two staff members, where only an ambulance can be staffed. Dynamic staffing also has been used in Earlysville.

Eggleston said when needed, ACFR also would institute dynamic staffing at Stony Point and East Rivanna.

“In this case, what we would do is we would not shut down a station at all,” he said. “Just for example, unfortunately, last year, we had to completely close the Earlysville station about 25% of the time.”

He said ACFR can hire four experienced firefighters who can be put in an abbreviated training school next week through September. Then, in July they can bring on 12 additional staff that will go through a complete recruit school until January.

“We also believe that we have a good story on our FEMA grant and have confidence in securing that grant for the staffing that will take place in September of [2021], starting with a recruit school in January,” he said.

Supervisor Ann Mallek said she thought it was good that other stations were going to be part of the dynamic staffing, rather than just Earlysville.

“The call volume’s three times [more] at Station 4 than what it is in Stony Point,” she said. “… I’m sure that Dan’s folks will be using call volume as a way to cascade as far as how they start their priorities to pull people.”

A budget public hearing is scheduled for after 6 p.m. May 6 during the board’s regular meeting over livestream.

A second work session is scheduled for May 11. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget on May 14.

More information on the revised budget can be found at albemarle.org/budget.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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