Clarke County Addresses Fire Department Staffing Concerns

Clarke County Addresses Fire Department Staffing Concerns

In Virginia 65 percent of firefighters are volunteers. But, in recent years fewer have been able to commit to the job.

CLARKE COUNTY, VA - In Virginia, 65 percent of firefighters are volunteers. But, in recent years fewer have been able to commit to the job.

"Many years ago it was much easier to get the volunteers out," said Michael Hobert, the chairman of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors. "They lived in their communities. They didn't travel large distances to work. And, the employers in the areas that they worked were responsive to the idea that if there was an emergency they would be able to go out and respond quickly."

In July, the Enders Volunteer fire chief, Harold Rohde wrote a letter to town and county officials explaining the company was in dire need of firefighters. He wrote that the department is so understaffed they have missed emergency calls or have been late to respond.

"These issues have been growing and it's good that the chief brought them to our attention again,'' Hobert said. “It is something that really does need to be addressed.

Under Hobert's leadership, the county has formed a citizen's work group to study the practices and track records of the local fire and emergency services departments, and ultimately address understaffing.

"We created a work group of citizens with experience in the area to study the issues, to look at best practices, to look at what we currently have in terms of our resources, and how they are allocated," Hobert said, "And, how the company's are working together."

Clarke County is just one of many Virginia counties participating in a statewide recruitment effort for firefighters. 

"We remain very dependent and will continue to be very dependent on the good will of volunteers who are willing to step forward and be a hero in their community by providing these kinds of services," Hobert said.

County officials say they do have a sense of urgency about the issue, but they say getting more firefighters into local departments won't be a quick or easy fix.

"Hopefully we can work aggressively to get a framework of recommendations ready before the holidays hit," says Brandon Stidham, the director of planning for Clarke County. "Once we come back from the holidays, we can wrap the recommendations up and polish the final report.”

The meetings will be open to the public for input and suggestions. Enders Volunteer fire chief says he is optimistic something good will come out of the committee. County officials hope to have recommendations by January of next year.

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