The Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue will take control of the emergency response oversight of Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad effective Wednesday, the county announced Tuesday afternoon.
Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad, which was formed in 1965, provided volunteer coverage around the clock until 2005, when Shenandoah County began assisting the organization by providing paid staff to help answer emergency calls from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, county Fire Chief Tim Williams said on Tuesday.
In 2015, Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad — which operates separately from Woodstock Fire Department — hired its own paid staff to provide 24/7 coverage, Williams said. The latest transition gives operational oversight to the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, which will handle emergency response.
A news release stated that the “steady decline in volunteerism in fire and rescue services nationwide has left [Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad] with a small number of volunteers to provide volunteer administration of the organization.” Recently, the release said, Woodstock Rescue took a “proactive” approach by creating a citizen group to help provide oversight of the organization. That group will remain and will manage the administrative side of Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“I really applaud the volunteers at Woodstock Rescue for implementing this citizen control board,” Williams said. “There was only a handful of volunteers and they simply just couldn’t manage everything. There are two sides, so to speak, in fire and rescue delivery. There is the administrative side and then there is the operations side. Neither one of those were in good shape, so by the county taking over the operations, that will allow the volunteers in this restructuring group to focus on the administrative side of the house, get things back in order and then hopefully strengthen and continue Woodstock Rescue. They are the only department around here that I’m aware of that pay their own staff, and simply they just didn’t have enough bodies to manage it more than anything else.”
In a statement included in the news release, Mike Ashely, a member of the Woodstock Rescue Squad and its citizen oversight committee, said the organization “supports this transition, which should allow the reorganization group to focus on the longevity of the volunteer agency while continuing a high level of care to those calling 9-1-1 for a medical emergency.”
Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad has the largest response district, according to the release, and there will be no lapse in emergency response during the transition.
According to the release, Shenandoah County has offered employment to “current full-time credentialed employees” of Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad. Williams said the transition would result in nine new staff positions added to the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, bringing the total personnel in that department to 80. That figure includes 72 staff members who work in the field (up from 63 previously) and the eight employees in senior staff positions.
Financially, Williams said, the additional positions would have “minimum to no impact” on the county.
“Woodstock Rescue was doing their own EMS insurance billing. They were not part of the county system, and then the county, by putting our career staff there, will be receiving the revenue from that call volume,” he explained. “It’s not gonna make us any money and it shouldn’t cost us — a minimum to no deficit — so it’s kind of a wash, to be quite honest with you.”
Earlier this year, Shenandoah County added 14 additional paid fire and EMS staff positions — at a cost of $800,000 annually — to address what Williams told county supervisors last year was an alarming number of missed calls for emergency services.
Williams said on Tuesday that the last transition similar to the one with Woodstock Volunteer Rescue Squad occurred in 2008, when New Market Volunteer Rescue Squad could no longer afford to pay its own career staff and asked the county to provide paid personnel.
“It’s not something abnormal,” Williams said. “We’ve done it before.”