Va. county votes to put EMS, fire under one leader
Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens: 'It's a positive step and a progressive direction for Prince George County'
By Amir Vera
PRINCE GEORGE, Va. — The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on an ordinance that would establish a coordinated fire and EMS system in the county.
Under the new system, according to County Administrator Percy Ashcraft, central authority of operating the county's fire and EMS system was given to the current director of Fire and EMS J. Brad Owens.
"It's a positive step and a progressive direction for Prince George County," Owens said.
The ordinance comes after more than a year's worth of research by the Board of Supervisors and the county attorney. Ashcraft said that after researching different counties' fire and emergency systems across the state, such as Hanover and Chesterfield County, it was decided that the Albemarle County model looked like it was best for Prince George to adopt.
"Albemarle's doesn't change our system that much. Volunteers still run their firehouses, it just brings the control to one person. With the different volunteer companies here, each acted independently on itself," said William A. Robertson Jr., chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Owens said that the director now oversees all aspects of the fire and EMS system such as obtaining new equipment. Ashcraft said there will be a Fire and EMS Board that will be composed of the Volunteer Chiefs' Committee.
If the members of this board want to make changes to the system or their station, they have to go through the director who ultimately answers to the county administrator.
"The big difference there is that the committee before was actually a policy-making board. The chiefs actually made decisions for how they operate and how they deal with things," Ashcraft said. "Now, that board will be an advisory board in which the chair will be the director. We think there will be an opportunity for some really good input from the chiefs. We anticipate subcommittees to be formed out of that board."
However despite the positive feedback, there were those who had problems with the ordinance. Alan R. Carmichael, District 1 supervisor, and Henry D. Parker Jr., District 2 supervisor, voted against the ordinance.
According to Carmichael, some of the fire chiefs did not receive an updated draft that the board ultimately voted on. He and Parker said they wanted to table the ordinance so that the fire chiefs could review it with their staff. Carmichael said he didn't want someone coming in after Owens and disrupting the volunteer service.
"I just wanted to make sure there were no loopholes," Carmichael said.
There was also a misconception, Owens said, that the volunteer system will be discontinued with the passing of this ordinance. Owens said the system will not be eliminated, but that this ordinance just adds more organization.
"It's passing will actually strengthen the volunteer system. It'll make us accountable across the board. Before, there was no protection of the volunteer system in any county code," Owens said. "It's different than what they've been used to, but they're the backbone of the fire and EMS system in the county."
While the ordinance has been passed, a detailed description of what the director does and what he is and is not able to do has yet to be discussed. The Board of Supervisors will discuss the official responsibilities and duties of the new position at the next meeting on Aug. 12.
(c)2014 The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Va.)
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