Some residents in northeast Albemarle County are concerned about a proposal to move daytime fire-rescue staff farther away from their area.
As part of County Executive Jeff Richardson’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, Albemarle County Fire Rescue would reallocate 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 meet system-wide response time standards and call volume.
The reallocation was proposed in response to a request by the Crozet department to ACFR to provide supplemental weekday, daytime staffing.
“We provided that as an option versus hiring the additional staff that’s needed to staff Crozet Fire Department, mainly because we haven’t really looked at that configuration since staff was put out there over 20 years ago,” ACFR Chief Dan Eggleston said in an interview Wednesday.
Eggleston said Stony Point has the lowest call volume of all stations in the system, answering about 300 calls per year.
During a budget public hearing last week, community members spoke out against the proposed relocation of staff.
“Is there any other way that we can be provided for to not have to count the rural lives different than the city lives?” a woman on the Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company asked the board.
Ann Eddins, who lives on Polo Grounds Road, said her neighborhood was switched from Stony Point’s coverage area to Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department’s area, and the shrinking coverage area may be contributing to the low call volume.
“Our main concern is that taking away the paid crew and leaving the Stony Point station empty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays will lengthen response times for us and even more for the areas further to the north and east,” she said.
Jason Buyaki, a former county School Board member, said it’s too risky not to fund daytime staff at all four stations and suggested the county’s past budget surpluses show that there is enough money to do it.
“My belief is that this board has the opportunity to correct things and be able to serve all the communities with paid daytime staff,” he said. “… The savings prove that we have the money available to fund daytime staffing at Crozet and Pantops stations.”
Crozet is one of Albemarle’s development areas, where the response time goal is eight minutes. Stony Point is in the county’s rural area, where the response time goal is 21 minutes.
Eggleston said with paid staff at Stony Point and East Rivanna, the fire-rescue system can cover all of the county’s development areas within eight minutes 70.6% of the time. If the paid staff is moved to Pantops and Crozet, the response time goal in the development area would increase to 96.2% of the time.
In the rural areas, current staffing meets the rural response time goal 86.6% of the time. Eggleston said that would increase slightly, to 89.7% of calls, if staff is moved.
ACFR Deputy Chief David Puckett said the county currently has a mutual aid agreement with Orange County, and that if this change is approved, staff would work on an agreement on a specific area and call types where the 911 center would automatically call Orange County to provide service, if available.
“They said they are more than willing to respond to those calls,” he said. “They have in the past, based off of their availability, and so I don’t foresee any issues with that, particularly in those fringe areas. We’re talking about up near the top of the county line. There’s not a large call volume there anyway.”
At a county budget work session Thursday, Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley tried to get the board to approve a 0.2-cent tax rate increase for advertisement, which would raise the real estate tax rate to 85.6 cents per $100 of assessed value and would generate enough funds to cover the $428,255 that five positions would cost, but only Supervisor Liz Palmer said she would vote yes.
The proposed budget includes 12 new fire-rescue positions, which would allow for 24/7 staffing of Advanced Life Support ambulances at the Pantops and Ivy stations.
ACFR is hosting a community meeting about the proposal at 6 p.m. Monday at Stony Point Elementary School, 3893 Stony Point Road.