Troutville Mayor David Horton took to Facebook Friday afternoon over concerns that the county had pulled a “medic” from the Troutville Volunteer Fire and Rescue station, leaving the community in a helpless situation should there be an emergency call.
“Well, the good folks that live in or around Troutville, (you) are out of luck. Our great leadership of the EMS in Fincastle have chose not to put a medic in Troutville, so hope and pray (you) can make it until the great leadership will have a medic at 6 p.m.,” was the first of three posts he made after learning the Troutville station was left without an Advanced Life Support vehicle and crew.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe said the situation was a staffing problem on the career side of the county’s emergency services.
For new Fire and EMS Chief Matt Britt, it was another tough welcome to the job he’s held for just two months.
Britt reiterated what Larrowe said and told The Herald the Fire & EMS Department is challenged with staffing shortages.
That’s in the process of being remedied, and the situation Friday in Troutville shouldn’t be a problem again— at least for the time being.
“As of (Monday) we brought on two new full-time employees and four part-time employees,” Britt said.
Four other full-time spots are also open and posted for applicants, Britt said. Three of those are staffing additions approved in the FY18 budget that starts July 1.
“Because of this staffing shortage, we do not always have the personnel to staff every ambulance with an Advanced Life Support certified person,” Britt said in an email. “On one occasion we were even short staffed to the point where we had to shut down a truck for 12 hours.
“I want to reassure everyone that this is by far not the norm and that we focus on providing for the safety of our citizens,” he said.
Britt said Mayor Horton was correct in that on a few occasions the department was forced to make the Troutville unit a Basic Life Support (BLS) truck, even shutting it down for one period of time.
“This unit was chosen because of its geographical location,” Britt said. “Please think of Read Mountain, Fincastle and Buchanan as a ring around our busiest area. These truck locations are in a position to move into that busiest area for a call, or head to the other side of the county for an emergency in, say, Eagle Rock.
“These trucks in the ‘ring’ have a somewhat equal response time to either side of the county,” Britt added.
He said this provides a more equal level of protection countywide. “In the event that a truck is shut down or made BLS, we automatically identify other resources to be dispatched and to assist that crew or area– such as another of our medic trucks or our EMS 7 supervisor,” he continued.
“The case of our Engine 7 (career) and Medic 12 (Read Mountain) running calls in Roanoke County has also been mentioned,” Britt continued. “This is done through a mutual aid agreement which basically states that we will help them out and they will help us out when needed.
“Roanoke County has certain resources that Botetourt doesn’t, which could be needed in the event of certain emergencies. Likewise, there are times when they need our help on a call,” he said. “No fire department has the resources to handle every problem on our own, we must work together to provide the best service, while being good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
Britt said the department never wants to shut any truck down or decrease its level of staffing, “an issue we hope won’t be a problem in the future,” he said. “But, ultimately I am forced to provide an equal level of service for every resident of Botetourt County. I can’t focus on one specific area, I must take all of the factors into consideration.”
Britt said one of the full-time EMS crew members who came on Monday is ALS trained and the other is BLS trained and going to school for ALS certification.
The staff shortage is the result partly from the department reorganization and people who have left.
It may not get any easier filling career positions, though.
Britt said the county has had some luck with applicants for the open jobs, but added, “It’s difficult to find people these days, There are a lot of opportunities for EMS in the valley right now, so it is competitive. We’re fighting against a lot of other organizations and it’s a challenge.”
Before making the new hires, the department had just enough people to cover the demands, but with sickness, injuries and such, the staffing level fell below what was needed.
Britt wanted to assure the public that when there’s a call, someone will answer. “At no time will nobody go,” he said. Under the department’s organization, dispatch will automatically send next closest unit, and if every unit was on a call, they would call for mutual aid for their help.
The department also has on-duty battalion chiefs and supervisors who can help answer calls, plus the volunteers who can provide basic level service.
“I understand the mayor’s standpoint— he was elected to look out for the best interest for his people, but there’s never a time when we say, ‘Oh, you’re just out of luck.’”
Larrowe said he and Britt hope to meet with Horton this week to discuss the situation.
— Ed McCoy