Four people took advantage of the chance Monday night to tell the Virginia Fire Services Board study group how they think Greene County’s fire and rescue departments are doing. There were roughly 40 people in the audience, most with ties to either the volunteer fire departments (there are three in Greene) or the rescue squad.
The three fire departments in Greene County—Dyke, Ruckersville and Stanardsville—are all volunteer departments. The rescue squad operates as a hybrid with volunteers when it can and several shifts are covered by UVA’s Medic 5.
“This is a great turnout, and I’m very excited to see this,” said Melissa Meador, emergency services manager for the county. “The purpose of this study is to provide an objective view of the fire and EMS (emergency medical services) services in Greene County; to provide feedback on areas where we are successful and in areas where we need improvement. We’re not naïve. We know there are a lot of areas that this county needs to improve upon as far as fire and rescue.”
The study, which was unanimously asked for last summer by the Greene County Board of Supervisors, is a free service for localities that request it. “We asked the study team to review several areas of responsibility on the fire and rescue agencies,” Meador said. “Those included organization, budget administration, accountability, training, level of service, delivery of services, fleet design and fleet management, communications, safety and operations. And we also asked them to take a look at our local emergency services board to determine whether or not that group needed to be more structured and be actually an extension of our governing body of the Board of Supervisors. So, again, this is an opportunity where we want to hear from you, the good, the bad, the ugly, we want to hear it.”
The first two speakers were in relation to an event that happened on Jan. 14 that left one of them within 20 minutes of her life.
The call to 911 was around 11:15 a.m. that day and an ambulance didn’t arrive until 12:30 p.m. and it took another 30 minutes to get to the hospital, according to the family.
“My name is Danita Brown and I’m the patient that had the seizure and had fallen. And as you can see my height, I did fall from standing position. This information was relayed to me because I obviously had no clue as to what happened,” she said. “Right now it is very scary to me, because when the doctors say and I think about the fact that I only had 20 minutes left where I could have seen my two children, and the rest of my family is very difficult trying to hold on to that, especially when it’s told that I was not seizing, there’s many forms of seizures.”
Brown said one of the first responders—not an EMS worker—had told the family it wasn’t a seizure, though the hospital told her it was.
“I think that everyone needs to be educated on the fact that they are many forms of seizures. Whether there was a seizure or not, I was unconscious for a long period of time,” Brown said. “Considering it was a seizure they’re now looking at how my brain activity works. So I’m grateful for the fact that the doctors were able to get me to a point that I was stable; I can speak I have some problems with formulating still but I am able to at least hold the conversation. It’s tough and it’s very scary to know that if this were to happen again during the day time, how long will it take for someone to get to me and if it should happen I pray that it don’t, but if it should happen, will that 20 minutes actually be no 20 minutes? Will I actually be able to see my children again?”
The third speaker is a former volunteer firefighter at Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Company.
Greg Pumphrey served as a volunteer firefighter at Ruckersville for 13 years until he was dismissed last year over a dispute about the company selling a tanker without public knowledge. He is also a career firefighter in another locality. Pumphrey detailed several things he felt the study group should address including: standards for officers, such as a chief; budget accountability; lack of indoor fire certification for firefighters; lack of a training facility in Greene County; selling one-third of the county’s water supply with the sale of the tanker; response times; and fleet maintenance.
“I’m kind of with a little bit of a heavy heart that I’m even having to speak on these issues,” he said. “I, as a husband, father, career firefighter, a son of a homeowner in Greene County, I have grave concerns about the current state of our fire services and the lack of strategic planning and lack of overall goals with how we’re moving forward as a company. And our rescue department is running out of one station; that makes no sense.”
Pumphrey said it’s important that the county be honest about what the residents are getting with an all-volunteer fire system.
“I don’t want to harp on Ruckersville,” he said. “If you live in Dyke, no one’s coming in to save you; exterior firefighters are not coming in. I’m not saying this to ruffle anybody’s feathers or hurt anybody. I care about this. I care about it being done properly. I believe in it. We need to be honest with what we’re providing the public and at least the honest conversation with the public if they want an all-volunteer system to save tax dollars. Be honest with that. “
Travis Rickman, government affairs manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said during the day on Monday the study group met with county staff, all three fire departments and the rescue department, as well as Meador and supervisors.
“I really want to just first say a huge thank you to everyone that invited us into their departments today. Y’all were so frank and we really enjoyed it,” Rickman said. “You can really tell the passion that y’all’s volunteer fire departments have, and the passion for the county. I mean, it really shows through, I think across the board. It really was a great feeling to see a community come together and you can tell each fire department wants the same goal and I really just say thank you for letting us come and do that.”
The study group will compile the information from their investigations on Monday and come back to the Board of Supervisors with a report, in an open meeting, to detail areas for improvement and a way to get there, Meador said.
“I am hopeful for a constructive and informative report from the study team,” Meador said. “The turnout this evening was more than I was expecting. We are grateful for those that took the time to come and to speak. We are well aware that we have areas that need improvement within our system. We are hopeful that this study will assist us in developing a strategic plan, strategic goals and objectives, specifically for our fire and EMS services regarding improvement.”