King William County plans to reorganize its fire and EMS operations.
King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue, or Station One, which has been partially funded by the county, donations and EMS billing revenue since it was founded in 1963, recently came to the county in search of a partnership to help with its financial struggles.
The county has started to plan for a new, centrally located fire and EMS station, Station Four, across from the Nestle Purina plant.
The discussion between the county and the volunteer organization began in October when the organization realized it could no longer operate the way it has been, according to county administrator Bobbie Tassinari.
Tassinari and King William Fire and EMS Chief Andy Aigner said they knew the volunteer organization has struggled financially for the past few years.
“I think we all hoped things would lumber along as is, but it’s extremely expensive to man stations, maintain them and outfit volunteers,” Tassinari said. “We did not expect them to come to us for assistance in this fiscal year.”
Aigner said the organization has had debt on a tanker and engine for a few years and expected to operate and pay off loans solely on EMS billing revenue and county funding.
“In their budget for 2018-19, on top of what we give them each year, which is around $118,000 minus the new radio system funding, they projected they would make $80,000 in EMS billing, and I thought that was on the low end,” Aigner said. “When we recently put our career fire medics at the station, their volunteers fell off the face of the earth.”
Station One volunteer fire and EMS Chief Chris Whitt said the previous administration of the organization decided to buy the two vehicles after they purchased the building, knowing they could not pay for them.
“This station has always had money problems because of the timing of those loans years ago,” Whitt said. “We got to the point where we didn’t want to watch it sink and went to the county.”
The number of volunteers and staff also dropped at the organization, as well as throughout the county after a pair of losses in the fire and EMS community, according to Aigner. Hanover County Fire and EMS Assistant Chief Henri G. Moore Jr. died of an aggressive form of cancer in February 2017 and Lt. Brad Clark died after his fire engine was hit by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 295 in October.
“It’s always been hard to get and keep good volunteers and staff, but these two deaths hit us … hard,” Aigner said.
Funding and cost
After discussions with King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Tassinari is recommending to the board at their Jan. 28 meeting that the county permanently take over the volunteer organization’s debt, assets and building throughout 2019-20, according to Tassinari.
“We are currently drafting an agreement between us and the organization,” Tassinari said. “We would be taking on two debt balances of $282,646.12 for the building and $264,185.03 for the tanker and engine.”
The county’s unassigned general fund, which has a balance of $10.8 million, would be used to pay off the mortgage loan on the property. The equipment loans also would be extended and refinanced, according to Tassinari.
The takeover of the organization would not directly affect the county’s 2019-20 budget, as the county would redirect funds given to King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Mattaponi Volunteer Rescue Squad, which operates out of King and Queen County and assists with calls for the county, to total fire and EMS operations, according to Tassinari.
The county allocated $1,166,229 for all fire and EMS operations in the 2018-19 budget, including King William County Fire and EMS, King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue, West Point Volunteer Fire Department, Mangohick Volunteer Fire Department, Mattaponi Rescue Squad and Walkerton Community Fire Association, according to Tassinari.
“This change and reorganization is budget neutral,” Tassinari said. “We are simply moving the funds to the total fire and EMS funding.”
The county would enter into a mutual aid agreement with Mattaponi Rescue, where both organizations will go into either county to assist with calls, if needed, with no cost to either county.
Walkerton Community Fire Association also operates in King and Queen and receives $63,170 from the county for assisting with calls and services.
“We are not making any changes to Walkerton’s funding, I don’t know if that will change in the future or not,” Tassinari said. “But we are trying to do baby steps in this process. We will look back at our call data in a year or two and reassess.”
The county allocated $161,380 to King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue and $56,820 to Mattaponi Rescue in its 2018-19 budget, according to Tassinari.
The proposal was brought to the Board of Supervisors at the Jan. 14 meeting.
Tassinari said she wanted to wait to bring it to the board so she and the organization could go through the necessary steps to present a unified proposal to the board. The Jan. 28 meeting will include discussion about the proposal.
King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Auxiliary
After the official agreement between the county and organization is finalized, Station One will house full-time and part-time staff, as well as volunteers for fire and EMS calls, according to Tassinari.
Current 2018-19 budget funding and EMS billing revenue would be used to make sure there are a few part-time fire medics and volunteers at the station, in addition to the six full-time fire medics already in place.
A volunteer auxiliary also would be set up for volunteers to support the organization when needed and look at community-based projects. The organization has discussed an emergency medical technician class at the high school.
Whitt said he plans to step down as volunteer fire and EMS chief sometime in February as the county begins to take over as he would not have the requirements to be chief under the county system. Whitt will become a part-time volunteer captain. Whitt said the new chief has not yet been named.
The county recently entered an agreement with a private property owner for a 2.93 acre lot across from the Nestle Purina plant.
The county plans to enter into a lease with the property owner for the new station and would only pay for utilities, expected to be about $300-$400 monthly, at the building, according to Tassinari.
The abandoned Targeted Microwave Solutions warehouse would be developed into the county’s new fire station. The warehouse has been vacant since the company closed the branch in August 2017, according to county planning director Ron Etter.
Fire Station Four, located off of Dunluce Road, would be named Dunluce district, according to Aigner.
The property is toward the end of the Mattaponi Rescue Squad’s coverage district and would provide increased coverage in the area.
“This is in a great central location in the county, I am confident we will have decreased call times from here,” Aigner said. Residents have complained about long wait times in the past, which he said was caused by the loss of volunteers.
Aigner said he and a few members of his staff were at the site recently when they received a call to go to the Mattaponi Indian Reservation.
“We got there in 14 minutes from the new station site,” Aigner said. “I looked back for a similar call that Mattaponi Rescue took and saw they took 21 minutes to get to the reservation.”
At a Jan. 16 county Town Hall, 5th District resident Don Wagner said he thinks the proposal will be a good change for the county.
“This county has been working for eight to 10 years trying to resolve issues we’ve had with fire and rescue,” Wagner said. “No longer will we have to watch buildings burn or wait for 45 minutes for a rescue squad.”
The cost to make the warehouse function as a station would be minimal and would come from the county’s proffer cash fund, as it’s an expansion of services. The cost for the renovation is unknown at this time, according to Tassinari.
Overall system, benefits
Adding Station One and Station Four to the county’s fire and EMS operations would give citizens access to 24/7 emergency services, according to Aigner.
The new stations also would give citizens relief when it comes to high homeowner’s insurance payments, according to Aigner.
“The Insurance Services Office has rates called ISO fire rates or scores which creates ratings for community fire departments,” Aigner said. “It’s based on how equipped a fire department is to put out fires and assist the community.”
Insurance companies then use the data to set home insurance rates. Citizens in the area wouldn’t see a change for a year or two, as it takes the department 18-24 months to document and report its data.
Under the new system, existing and new volunteers would receive uniforms like full- and part-time staff and be held to the same professional standards, according to Aigner.
“Volunteers are still integral to our county and system,” Aigner said. “We want to grow the program.”
Aigner said he hopes the planned changes will create a unified approach to providing residents with the service they deserve.
The Board of Supervisors will meet Jan. 28 to discuss and possibly vote on a formal agreement with King William Volunteer Fire and Rescue and plans for Station Four.
Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, email@example.com or @ashleyrluck