- Published on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 11:26
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These days Chief David Moody is between a rock and a hard place. The rock is county and state officials demanding tougher standards and more accountability for volunteers serving the King George Fire and Rescue Department. The hard place is the determination and anger of more than a dozen hard-working volunteers who have been dismissed in spite of serving the county for decades.
“Volunteers are a vital and important part of our organization; we value their service and participation. We continue to seek volunteer participation and we conduct an ongoing recruitment process throughout the year for new volunteers,” Moody said in response to complaints from the departing fire and rescue volunteers.
Moody said volunteers are required to participate a minimum of 18 hours per month in order to be active with the fire and rescue department. As a benefit for that active service, volunteers receive a personal property tax exemption for one vehicle, an exemption of the county’s vehicle license fee and free training.
However, some of the more experienced volunteers want to work from home rather than sitting around the fire station waiting for a call. “We encourage our volunteers to pull duty shifts versus providing a home-based response, since this will let us know who will be responding to ensure a fast and effective response to our citizens.”
A report from the Virginia Fire Services Board, which was issued in November of 2011, recommended that Moody’s Fire and Rescue Department “restructure its standards for volunteer membership and require all members to work a minimum number of duty shifts a month.”
Dahlgren Supervisor Ruby Brabo said while she and other supervisors are strong supporters of Moody and value the volunteers, the supervisors are concerned about the failure of the fire department to ensure that the volunteers are meeting the requirements for active membership. “We told Chief Moody, we are offering benefits, but you are not holding people accountable.”
On Jan. 23, Moody moved to resolve the situation by sending out dismissal letters to volunteer fire and rescue personnel whom he said had failed to meet the minimum standards for maintaining active volunteer status. Jack W. Deem, Jr., who has been a volunteer at the Fire and Rescue Department for 36 years, said Moody’s letter was “like being thrown out in the trash.”
Most of the firefighters who received the letter said they felt disrespected despite decades of volunteer service to the fire department and the county. Deem, in an angry open letter said, “It just seems that if you are not in Moody’s clique, you are not worth having around.” Deem said in his letter that he was resigning his position as a volunteer member of the Rescue, Emergency Services Board.
“I took it as a smack in the face,” said Roy Fenwick, III, who has been a volunteer for 23 years. Fenwick said he, his sister, Tina, and his father, Roy, Jr., together have given the county over 60 years of volunteer service. All three of them received letters of dismissal.
“After 21 years of dedicated service, I took time off to spend some time with my children,” Fenwick said. “I have a son who is playing travel baseball and I did not want to miss his games. After all the years I put in, as a lifetime member, I thought I was entitled to that.”
The Virginia Fire Services Board issued its report after studying the King George Fire Department and Rescue Squad operation in 2011 and it was clear from reading the document that change was on the way. The report noted that in 2011 “the department said the total number of active volunteers on the roster in King George is 75 individuals.”
“However, during our site visit, leadership identified that 75 as an overestimate. The number of volunteers is more accurately less than half that number. This complication can be attributed to the requirements for volunteer membership.”
Moody said there are currently 69 volunteers and the department has 13 applications pending. He said there were 14 dismissal letters that went out on Jan. 23. “We have 10 people that are no longer members of the department and four life members that were changed from active to inactive status, all due to inactivity.”
Brabo said supervisors have been concerned about the situation for some time. And, Brabo had a first-hand example of the problems caused by a lack of available volunteers on Dec. 29 when she had a significant cardiac problem at her home near Dahlgren and could not get a volunteer rescue squad to respond. Brabo, who has a pacemaker, was in serious trouble.
But when her husband called 911, he was told there were no rescue squad volunteers available to respond to the call at Company #2 in Dahlgren. “Unfortunately, the volunteers pick and choose which calls they are going to answer,” she said. “My husband waited 15 minutes and then called a private ambulance that arrived after 25 minutes and took me to Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.”
In a letter to the volunteers dated Oct. 23, 2012, Chief Moody warned them of the requirements necessary to maintain active/operational status. “One of the tasks necessary to ensure an effective and viable volunteer system is to track the participation of each member to ensure minimum expectations are being met,” the letter said.
Moody’s letter attached an activity sheet showing the number of volunteer hours performed by the firefighters and rescue squad members during the past 12 months and warned that each volunteer would “be given 90 days to meet the requirements for active/operational membership.” The letter was counter signed by Valerie Myers, the Volunteer Firefighter President.
The Jan. 23 letter was a follow-up to the warning, and informed volunteers who had not met the active/operational status requirements that they had been removed from the fire department’s volunteer membership status and placed into an inactive status. “You are not allowed to respond to emergency calls. You are not allowed to drive, operate, or occupy any emergency equipment or apparatus.”
The follow-up letter was also signed by Chief Moody and by Volunteer President Myers. “We do appreciate your dedication and commitment of time in becoming a volunteer for life member and you will continue to receive all benefits related to volunteer for life membership.”
Moody said, “There is no plan to make all firefighters and rescue personnel into paid workers. We do recruit for paid workers periodically as positions become open, and have often provided employment opportunities to many of the active and qualified volunteers.”