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By CATHY DYSON
The King George County Board of Supervisors hasn't publicly acknowledged any problems with its fire and rescue system, described as "dysfunctional and dangerous" in a recent state report, but the county's top paid and volunteer chiefs say the service has "serious issues."
During a town-hall meeting Thursday, David Moody, the county's paid fire and rescue chief, and Ted Lovell, the volunteer chief, said King George needs 10 more full-time workers to man its three fire stations around the clock.
"We need more career firefighters to support the volunteer firefighters," Lovell said. "It's a must, to maintain a safe level of standard operating procedures."
After several questions from residents about why the county hasn't hired more workers, Moody said he doesn't have the authority.
Like all department heads, he received a memo from County Administrator Travis Quesenberry advising him to hold spending for next fiscal year at current levels, Moody said.
"I followed instructions in what I was required to do," he told the audience of almost 60 people.
Supervisors are well aware of what's going on in the department, Lovell said, adding that he has gone over topics such as the response rates in previous meetings.
"I've made it quite clear to the fire chief and quite clear to the Board of Supervisors in the past, who meet with us on the volunteer side regularly," Lovell said. "These people support us, we work with them, make them aware of what's going on, and we have issues."
The town-hall meeting was organized by newly elected Supervisor Ruby Brabo and School Board member Ken Novell, both from the Dahlgren District of King George. The Free Lance-Star did not attend the meeting, but obtained an audio tape of it.
Brabo and Novell updated residents on everything from road plans to the search for a new school superintendent, and Sheriff Steve Dempsey explained a new program designed to reduce crimes against seniors.
But most of the questions from the audience were directed at Lovell and Moody, who described problems in the department during a two-hour session at the University of Mary Washington's Dahlgren campus.
Moody and Lovell talked openly about issues ranging from lengthy response times to not being able to answer calls at all.
Their candor was quite different from the reaction supervisors had in December, when Quesenberry presented a brief version of the state audit of fire and rescue services. The report was done by the Virginia Fire Services Board at the request of the Board of Supervisors.
At that meeting, supervisors commented on what a great department the county had and how "healthy and positive" the state report was.
At Thursday's town-hall session, Lovell and Moody said that more than 90 percent of calls to the Fairview Beach department--one of three in the county--are going without a response because of the lack of volunteers.
"You may be well aware that we've had some serious issues in the volunteer fire department," Lovell said. "I refer to it a lot of times that we've shot ourselves in the foot. We're trying to regain the public trust."
Bob Fuscaldo, King George's at-large supervisor from 1996 to 2003, wanted to know when the county planned to address the "shortcomings and shortfalls" outlined in the recent report.
"It seems like there's a pall of silence over the report," Fuscaldo said. "There's a sense of urgency that is missing and there's no information coming out on any plans for anything. That bothers me."
"I can totally understand that," Moody responded.
Moody told residents his department just completed a strategic plan which will be presented to the Board of Supervisors. That plan, as well as one that addresses the state report, will be discussed in an upcoming work session, County Administrator Quesenberry said Tuesday.
The county added three full-time emergency services workers for the current year, which reduced overtime and part-time pay by $51,000, according to Quesenberry's budget presentation on March 26.
Resident Koontz Campbell asked why there aren't more paid workers, then answered her own question when she said: "Because it requires money and the Board of Supervisors would have to provide the money? That's kind of what I thought, I just wanted to hear somebody say it."
She wondered if it's time for residents to stress the need for emergency services workers.
"How many of us need to come to the next Board of Supervisors meeting and tell them we'd like our property and lives protected?" she asked. "All of us? That's where we should be."
Supervisor Brabo said nobody likes to see taxes raised, and people assume tax increases are needed to cover school requests only.
"Guess what, there's other things in this county that need to be fully funded in order to offer us an adequate level of service," she said.
Betty Griggs agreed, even though she didn't relish the idea of more taxes because she has two children in college.
"We cannot demand additional services without additional funding," she said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
King George isn't the only county struggling to provide paid emergency-services workers as the number of volunteers has decreased.
The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors approved a plan in March that will add 55 fire and rescue employees over the next two years.
The $4.3 million plan includes 19 new positions--mostly firefighters/medics--in 2012-13.
Spotsylvania has also applied for a federal grant that would fund 18 firefighters for two years.
Stafford County has no plans this year to increase its fire and rescue staff. But last year, the county received a federal grant to fund seven new career firefighters for two years.
Stafford officials have said they plan to keep these hires when the grant runs out, and have begun working the necessary $500,000 into the budget.
There are 109 full-time positions in the department.