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County Hoses Down Fire Company Concerns

The chiefs, volunteers and career staff for 17 volunteer fire and rescue companies in Loudoun will have their say after all.

"The most important factor is the direct involvement of volunteers," said Rick Dizerega, chief of the Volunteer Rescue Squad, Company 13 in Leesburg, at Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting. "There is concern about who has control of the power and the balance of these powers. ... We can't afford a breakdown in either of these components," Dizerega said, referring to the volunteers and career staff for fire and rescue services.

The Board of Supervisors approved a new Fire and Rescue Charter at the meeting, allowing the companies' fire and rescue chiefs to continue overseeing daily company operations, while assigning a new fire chief to manage operations systemwide. The charter, which forms a new commission and replaces the current charter, partners volunteer fire and rescue companies and career staff employed by the county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

"That's a major statement for the board to make [about] expecting these people to continue what they're doing,'" said Douglas Rambo, chairman of the Fire and Rescue Commission. "They are expected to run the day-to-day operations of their companies, and they're expected to support the chief of the system to make the entire system work. They have two responsibilities now."

The county hired consulting firm EMSStar Group, LLC in October 2000 to develop a model for fire and rescue services and to update the county’s current fire and rescue system. The consultant's proposed model introduced changes to the system by establishing a single countywide fire department with a fire chief in charge and organizing an advisory commission of volunteers, residents and board members to advise the chief.

THE FIRE AND RESCUE Commission assembled several work groups last year to assess the consultant's report and presented its concerns in January of this year. County staff developed a charter and submitted it to the board in April, but the board deferred action to give the fire and rescue companies a chance to review and comment on the proposed charter. The staff, in turn, took the additional comments into consideration, amending the charter to present at the meeting.

"We have come a long way in the discussion we had in the last six months. Now, we do have a partnership where points of view are respected and people can affect policy decision making," Rambo said. "It means one person is not making all the decisions. ... There are other voices that will get introduced."

The charter expands the size of the Fire and Rescue Commission by two members to seven voting members, gives the commission policy-making authority beyond serving only in an advisory role, and shares management of the system among the company chiefs and the systemwide fire chief. The Board of Supervisors plans to appoint the commission members later this year, including the Chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue as a member. The charter prevents the chief from serving as the commission's chairperson or vice-chairperson.

"This would be a policy-setting group for the systemwide operations," said Robert Griffin, chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services and assistant county administrator.

The amended charter puts volunteers first, said Chairman Scott York (R-At Large). "My philosophy is to do what we can to shore up the volunteer system. We are trying to do what we can to keep the [system] healthy and strategically in place," he said.

The board approved the amended charter 7-1-1 with Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voting against and Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) absent.

The current commission will continue serving until the new commission is selected. The board will solicit applications for commission membership through the end of June.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

• The board supported holding a public hearing on proposed amendments to the solid waste collection and transportation and the solid waste reduction and recycling ordinances. The amendments would change the county's role from the 1993 code revision by increasing the county's dependence on private solid waste collectors and implementing a countywide recycling program. As proposed, solid waste collectors will be required to collect recyclable material from residential customers beginning Jan. 1, 2003 and collect one primary recyclable material from non-residential customers in October of that year.