I’m learning more and more about the state of Fire and Emergency Medical Services in rural Wythe County, Va. and it seems as though County Administrators have a lot of cleaning up to do.
In my last post, I told you about the Wythe County Board of Supervisors closing the doors of the Speedwell Volunteer Fire Department. They sited the lack of “formal training” and financial issues as reasoning for the closure. I’m now learning that these are not the first “issues” the Board has had with the Speedwell VFD.
In September 2011, Michael Hale a 40 year Fire Department volunteer and then Chief of Speedwell VFD; admitted to and was convicted of felony embezzlement. Hale took more than $150,000 from his then employer (The Paper Clip) and sent it to his son who was feeding a heroin addiction
The Wythe County Board passed the new resolution just days after Hale’s release but apparently, he has been found inside the Speedwell Firehouse since. The Speedwell VFD was instructed to remove Hale from the rooster but did not do so until late June 2012. Additionally, the leadership of Speedwell would / did not release requested financial information / records to a special Task Force.
Hale was well liked and defended by many Wythe County residents who testified to his character. Mary Hedlund, then treasurer for the Speedwell Volunteer Fire Department said “He’s just a good, honest person and would just help anybody any way he can”. Cue the banjos because I’m not sure I’ve met too many “good, honest” people who have stolen $150,000.
More from TriCities.com by clicking HERE
The County even formed a Task Force to study their local Fire / Rescue Departments in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the Volunteers and the Board. Sadly, it appears that the new Chief, Alfred Rosenbaum is no better than their last. It doesn’t seem like he’s been very cooperative or willing to work with County Administrators. The Task Force submitted 25 recommendations to the board. They only acted on shutting down Speedwell (for reorganization) and tabled the remaining 24 pending further review.
Supervisor Gary Houseman, the Task Force Chair, speaking of the Speedwell VFD; told the board “the task force does not see anything improving if we leave it alone”.
More from SWVAtoday.com HERE
Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? It reminds me a lot of the Buchanan / Botetourt County issues that I’ve posted on recently (cue the banjos again please). If you’re new to the site and missed that circus, click the link below and follow all the links inside the post for the full picture …
But wait … Wythe County’s problems go even deeper. Now, the Wythe County Rescue Squad is also being investigated for “misappropriation of funds”. The squad lists itself as “A Volunteer/Career Organization” (Visit their website HERE)
The Squad’s Director, Beth Crigger; resigned in early August.
The Squad was also in the news lately after announcing that they were forced to “lay off” two full-time workers due to “money issues”. They had unsuccessfully lobbied the Town of Wytheville, who already provides $25,000 annually to the Squad; for additional funding.
More from SWVAtoday.com click HERE
It seems like at least the County is stepping in to clean up some of all this mess. Apparently, they understand the liability placed them by having Departments run in this manner. Think about it this way …. what if an untrained member had gotten seriously injured or killed while operating on an emergency scene… who would have been responsible? Take a structure fire for instance. If the County knowingly allowed non-certified members to operate out of County owned buildings, with County issued gear and on County owned apparatus, and they were killed or injured; I believe they (Wythe County) would, could and should be held liable. Today’s Fire Service can’t afford these “Good ‘ol Boy” Departments / systems anymore and they shouldn’t be tolerated (by us or the citizens we protect).
Again I’ll say that it looks like they’re headed in the right direction to clean it up. I know that they are currently running a VDFP Certified Firefighter I class in Rural Retreat, Va. It’s estimated that around 20 members, County wide; are participating in the class. I’ve been told that there were no registrants from the Speedwell VFD. That’s SAD!
If their leadership is uncooperative with County Administrators , (Supervisor and Task Force leader Gary Houseman said “We met with Speedwell and feel they have been less than forthcoming in turning in information we requested”) and their membership refuses to get “formal” training, is there any wonder why the County decided to shut the Station down?
The worst part of it all is that the citizens and visitors to Wythe County are the ones who are paying the price. Just Saturday, 3 people were killed approximately 8 miles from the Speedwell Fire Station. With Speedwell being closed, Rural Retreat Volunteer Fire Department and/or the Rural Retreat Rescue Squad became 1st due (both Companies do extrication work). Either of these units would have been the “extrication Company” anyway due to Speedwell not having the tools or training. Wythe County Rescue Squad was the 1st due ambulance but understandably needed additional mutual-aid units due to the number of patients.
More on the DEADLY CRASH from Roanoke.com CLICK HERE
How about your Department? Do you allow Felons membership? What about training …. what is you minimal level of training before members are allowed to take in runs? Do you live in Wythe County or near Speedwell, Va? Want to help?? You can find the application for the newly organized Speedwell VFD by CLICKING HERE . Let me hear your comments … place em here or via Face Book
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Stay Safe and in House!