Spotsylvania County public safety officials spent much of 2019 pushing to get better pay for the crews who respond to emergencies, pointing out that experienced staff were leaving for other localities.
The county’s fire and rescue crews didn’t let the issue impact their work. In fact, they chalked up the best response times since 2009, the first full year in the county’s database.
Last year, fire and rescue crews responded to 18,959 incidents with an average response time of 7 minutes, 41 seconds, according to data compiled by the Spotsylvania Fire, Rescue & Emergency Management. That response time is 11 seconds faster than 2018 and 10 seconds better than 2017. In 2009, the average response time was 8 minutes, 36 seconds for 15,618 calls.
County Fire Chief Jay Cullinan said several factors played a role in the improved response times. First, he saluted the fire and rescue crews.
“It really all comes down to them,” he said. “Without those people at the stations responding to calls, we would have no success.”
Cullinan also highlighted the county’s investment in career fire and rescue staff and stations. Two new fire and rescue stations opened in 2016, pushing the total in the county to 11.
The county has increased the number of paid crew members in recent years, which allows for 24–7 staffing at all stations.
The county also approved a new pay plan for all public safety personnel, including firefighters and medics, that went into effect Jan. 1. Under the plan, the least experienced fire and rescue workers will receive average raises between $5,700 and $12,700 this year. The average raise at the top of the pay scale is $15,350.
Cullinan said the county has 239 paid fire and rescue workers and about 220 volunteers. The volunteer numbers have decreased over the years, but he said the paid staff has doubled since 2008.
The chief said the upgraded alert system was another key factor in the improved response times. The previous alert system was radio based—the new one is run by computers and radios on a fiber optic network. The new system gets the alerts out faster and doesn’t have reception issues like the old system.
“I think that’s one of the chief factors in our response times,” Cullinan said.
The chief said there is a push to upgrade even further by adding computers in emergency vehicles, as well as deputy cruisers, something he believes would improve response times even more.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Skinner said he isn’t familiar with the new system, but he’s all in for finding ways to keep speeding up emergency response times.
“I don’t think we should stop where we are,” he said. “It all comes down to funding, but to me, you can’t put a price on life.”