STANARDSVILLE — Over the past year, concerns have been raised about Greene County’s fire and rescue departments — from financing to finding enough volunteers — and this week will be the chance for citizens to voice their concerns.
Greene’s Board of Supervisors requested last fall that the Virginia Fire Services Board provide a free fire and emergency medical services study. The study kicks off Monday, when the experts visit Greene. This will include an evening town hall meeting with the public. The fire services board partners with the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, the Office of Emergency Medical Services and the Virginia Department of Forestry to provide the study for localities, per state code.
Throughout the day, the fire services board will meet with the county administrator, the emergency services manager, the fire departments, the rescue squad and the emergency medical services supervisor. At 7:30 p.m., community members are invited to the county administration building to offer up their concerns.
“The fire services board will take all that information, from what they’ve done throughout the day and from the town hall meeting, and compile a report,” said Melissa Meador, emergency services manager for Greene County.
“They’re going to look at our successes and they’re going to look at areas that need to be improved. We’re aware that there’s going to be some good stuff and there’s going to be some bad stuff that’s going to come back in this report but it does help us with our roadmap, it does help us with our strategic planning — where we are and where we need to be in five years, 10 years — and how we’re going to sustain our fire and EMS agencies,” she said.
Both Meador and Greene County Administrator Mark Taylor have utilized this free service at jurisdictions where they previously worked. This is a first for Greene though, and it was a unanimous decision from all the stakeholders on the county’s Emergency Services Board, Meador noted, made up of all three volunteer fire departments, police, county government and the rescue squad.
“We’re bringing in experts in their respective fields to provide us with information and assistance,” Meador said. “There is nothing that says we have to do the things in this report, there’s nothing that binds us to doing this.”
“It’s always helpful; we can always get better, right, whatever our level of services, whatever our level of performance is really,” he said. “My first message to the staff when I came in the door here a year ago [was], ‘this is about the future. I believe in better; we’re going to get better.’ And the road to better starts with comprehension of where we are now. These experts are here to help us map our way to better. So, for them to know where we are now is critically important.”
That’s why Meador said citizens need to come out to the town hall and express their concerns in an open forum.
“We are not trying to hide anything. This is an opportunity for transparency,” Meador said. “It’s the opportunity to get every single stakeholder involved, and when I say stakeholder, I mean community members, as well. If I don’t know about issues, if the county doesn’t know about issues or concerns, it’s hard to address them.”
The Greene County Rescue Squad operates as a hybrid, with paid career personnel from the University of Virginia’s Medic 5 and volunteers, while the three fire departments in Greene — Ruckersville, Stanardsville and Dyke — all operate with 100% volunteers. But all are facing recruitment concerns.
“The board will look at the recruitment, retention and staffing. You know, we won’t be surprised if it comes back in this report that we need career personnel for fire …,” she said. “I think that is something that the three volunteer fire agencies, in the back of their minds, they know it’s coming at some point. It’s just a question of when.”
Meador said she’s thankful the agencies came together to recommend the study to the Board of Supervisors.
“It’s a top-to-bottom review of our entire system,” Meador said. “You’re never as proactive as you want to be and that has got to change …. This is a start.”
For those unable to attend the town hall, concerns can be sent to Meador, who said she’ll pass them on to the study administrators. Concerns can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (434) 985-5232.