New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | November 19, 2017

Editorial: It’s time to invest into paid firefighters in Charles City

By Andre Jones | November 14, 2017 5:33 pm

I think the title of this editorial is self-explanatory.

Every time I travel down Adkins Road in Charles City, I pass Fire Station #1. On the sign, it reads “volunteer.”

It’s heartbreaking on a personal note as I know the struggles of getting firefighters (and EMS workers) for the county. Growing up, I watched my father work as a volunteer firefighter. There were many nights where he went out to a fire at 8 p.m. at night, returned home at 2 a.m. and left for his day job at 4 a.m. In those days, the number of volunteers was modest to say the least.

But today, the number of volunteers has dwindled significantly. There were times when the station only had five active volunteers. It was painful to see as my father’s vehicle was parked at the fire station every night when I drove by as he worked on a plan to devise to get more assistance.

All of while, the situation for emergency services continue to grow in the county. Fire and EMS are deployed with limited staff, with other counties responding to Charles City as part of mutual aid in many cases to assist when a vehicle is out of the county or responding to another call. It has nearly become detrimental.

It’s no fault to the volunteers who serve as medical emergency responders and firefighters to situations. They volunteer out the goodness of their hearts, but what happens if a fire breaks out and they have to report to their paid job? Do they follow their heart and assist with the service call or do they work their career job to support their families? These are the very situations that these faithful volunteers have to do.

And becoming a volunteer firefighter or EMS responder? Not easy as well. Just like a hired employee, volunteers must complete curriculum and training of the desired position. They must pass drug screenings and clear criminal background checks. Even then, they must also be physically fit to handle and wear safety equipment. That’s a lot on the checklist isn’t it?

But now in Charles City, it’s time to invest into hiring paid firefighters in the county. Paid firefighters will bring a sigh of relief for some people to know there is at least someone on standby to respond to a call. Full-time firefighters also will increase the response time to incidents, something Charles City as a county has been aiming to do with EMS services. Hiring firefighters could result in workers at all three stations (yes, Charles City has three fire stations).

What is it going to take to hire these workers? A tax raise more than likely. However, my belief is that citizens are willing to pay for this increase if it is specifically designated for emergency services. With the recent negotiations with BB&T that won’t see the county pay on loans used for the construction of the new library that should prevent any tax increase on that account. Instead, use any increase to make the county citizens feel safer.

Our volunteers contribute a number of hours in what they do and they are seemingly bashed because of response time, not providing quality service, and other points of emphasis. Let’s make sure our volunteers are not only appreciated for their work, but let’s give them a hand by having someone relieve pressure off their shoulders.