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Volunteers Ask For More Time

Monday was too soon for Leesburg resident Jack Merritt to accept a new charter for a new Fire and Rescue Commission.

"If you want to retain your volunteers ... the good parts of your system now, I beg of you, slow down," said Merritt, a commissioner for the existing Fire and Rescue Commission, which will dissolve once the Board of Supervisors adopts a new charter.

The supervisors agreed to delay taking a vote to May 20, giving the commission another month to review the charter. The charter, which will outline the commission's roles and the policy and goals of the fire and rescue system, will replace the existing charter created in 1986.

The county hired a consulting firm in October 2000 to develop a model for fire and rescue services and to update the county's fire and rescue system with a new countywide fire chief.

"The consultant recommended we do away with the commission," said Supervisor James "Jim" Burton (I-Mercer). "This was not an acceptable recommendation."

Burton moved that the board adopt the new charter, which will place most of the procedural language in the existing charter in the commission's by-laws once they are drafted. The new charter calls for five voting members, including two emergency and two fire volunteers and the fire chief, and two non-voting members, including a Board of Supervisors member and the operational medical director. The existing charter calls for an eight-member commission.

SPEAKERS at the board meeting said that they wanted more than four commission members representing the volunteers.

"The main stickler is the size of the commission and how they are elected," said Ashburn resident Ray Muth, Sr. of the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. "Four persons on a commission representing the volunteers is not enough."

"We feel that the draft charter does not properly represent the Fire and Rescue Commission and the approximately 1,200 volunteers in the system," said a statement submitted by the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., underscored by the Lucketts, Hamilton, Lovettsville and Loudoun County fire and rescue companies. "This is clearly indicated by the fact volunteers had no opportunity to provide input of any kind to the proposed charter."

The Fire and Rescue Commission had a March 26 workshop to make revisions to the draft, which the Finance and Government Services Committee approved for recommendation at the March 18 meeting. The commission reported it did not have enough time to review the draft and to make comments, as stated in a memo sent to county administrator Kirby Bowers.

"There were pressures on the commission to come forward with a recommendation today," Merritt said, adding that the commission needs more time, since it encourages communication and allows staff and volunteers to give their input.

"This charter does not speak to us, to the volunteers," said Round Hill resident Sue Johnson, a volunteer for the Purcellville Volunteer Rescue Squad. "You diminished [the commission] to four volunteers who are politically appointed. The volunteers need an opportunity to go through this charter."

CHAIRMAN Scott York (R-At Large) moved to table the charter adoption for 60 days.

"It's always easy to avoid making a difficult decision," Burton said, the only supervisor to vote against the motion. "The longer we drag this out, the worse the acrimony. The real motive is to undermine creating one system with a chief."

Other board members disagreed.

"I don't see [any] harm in allowing the volunteers to have time for input. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it the right way," said Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles).

"I would like to build a bigger consensus," said Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg).

The commission has until May 6 to bring recommendations to the board. The board will take a vote on May 20.