Large section of SW. Va facing major changes to Fire/EMS Services

VabotetourtBig changes could be coming to Fire and Emergency Services in South Western Va.

Some, have already been announced / arrived, while others; are not far behind.

There have been some MAJOR changes in leadership in that most of the larger Departments in the area have either already or are scheduled to get a new Chiefs of Department.

I’ll start with Botetourt County which is a combination Department serving approx 543 sq miles including a large section of Interstate 81, US Route 11 and Rt. 220.

54034faea531e.imageHaving worked his way through the ranks of the Roanoke Fire Department (now Roanoke Fire/EMS… Roanoke City), Beckner most recently served as Deputy Chief of Operations. In September 2014, he was named as Chief of Fire and EMS for Botetourt. Chief Beckner lives in Botetourt County.

The new position places Beckner in a position overseeing approx. 255 uniformed personnel operating out of 8 strategically located stations. They serve and protect approx 32,000+ citizens.

The position is a fairly new one for Botetourt County and Beckner is the 2nd to hold the position (excluding Chief Tommy Fuqua holding it interim until Beckner’s announcement). It hasn’t been a position / title welcomed with open arms by some of the volunteers.

The first appointment was titled Director of Emergency Services and was awarded to Chief Carr Boyd who left North Carolina from a Captain’s position. Like I mentioned, the position, and Boyd; was met with quite a bit of opposition. One of the volunteer Chiefs (and I’ll use that term lightly here..) was quoted in local news sources as saying… if an emergency services director assumes control of a scene “there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings and busted noses.”

You can read a previous post related to Boyd’s departure from Botetourt in the following link ..

Forward thinking Chief vs. the “good ol boy system” … who has Public Safety’s best interest in mind for Botetourt County?

Chief Beckner wasn’t met with nearly as much disregard but he still has a lot of work ahead of him. There are still problems to be addressed and decisions that will need to be made. The result could mean possible  changes for how Botetourt County Fire / EMS conducts business.

Find their web site by clicking HERE

PrillimanThe City of Salem also announced the appointment of a new Fire / EMS Chief late December 2014.

Former Deputy Chief John Prillaman took over as Chief of Department on January 1, 2015.

Chief Prillaman was hired by Salem in 1998 and also worked his way through the ranks.

Prillaman is taking over for Chief Pat Counts who retired December 31, 2014 after 40 years of service!

The City of Salem covers 14.6 sq. miles with approx 25,300 residents.

The Department runs out of 3 stations and employees nearly 60 suppression personnel.

 Visit their web site by clicking HERE

54136d23ecca3.imageAfter nearly 19 years as Chief, Roanoke County Fire / Rescue Chief Rich Birch is also slated to retire. Chief Birch will step down from his position in April 2015.

Chief Birch came to Roanoke from Hanover County, Va where he spent nearly 2 decades as Deputy Chief. He also comes from a long line / history of Firefighters. His father, now deceased and a retired Captain from Richmond; is affectionately know as “Grand dad” to many area firefighters.

Ironfiremen on FaceBook… Click HERE

by Paul CombsAs a young Captain, I had the honor of sharing our kitchen table, a few meals and several war stories with “Grand Dad” down at old station #3.

Roanoke County holds approx 93,500 residents within a 251 sq mile radius.

The Department operates with 150 career members and 200 volunteers out of 14 stations. Their annual budget is around $13.7 million.

The Chief’s position is usually filled by the County Administrator however, that position is currently vacant an being filled by interim Administrator Dan O’Donnell.

It’s uncertain at this point if the position will be filled from within or outside the Department.

Visit their web site HERE

1-IMG_0565That’s 3 MAJOR Departments, covering nearly 900 sq miles and housing approx. 151,000 citizens who are all getting new Chiefs of Fire / EMS.

Roanoke City is right in the middle of the Counties mentioned above and may be the next in line for a new leader.

The City is another 43 square miles with a population of 98,500.

It’s Chief, David Hoback; reached his 30 year mark (their cap for retirement) January 1, 2015. As of yet, his potential retirement date remains unannounced.

Captain Willie Wines Jr and Chief Jack Jones Bedford County, VaIn addition, and although only rumor; there has also been “talk” around the stations of the Bedford County Fire Chief , Jack Jones; looking to “move on”.

Bedford County (as well as the Town of) is protected by a combination system utilizing 12 Departments.

Bedford County encompasses another 769 sq miles and approx 70,000 citizens.

That brings the potential South Western Virginia area coverage with new Fire / EMS leadership to 1,712 square miles and an approx population of 319,300!

Visit their web site HERE

I would classify all the above as MAJOR CHANGE coming to the area. Think of it this way… when interviewing for the positions, an applicant wouldn’t / shouldn’t say everything is going to remain status-quo.

A new Chief should come to the table with means of improvement and avenues of progress. They should place themselves in a position to move a Department forward.

flow chart 2Customer Service, Recruitment / Retention, Budgeting, Pay and Benefits, Fleet Management and Capitol Improvements are just a few of the areas these new Chiefs will find drawing their attention.

I wish them all good luck and look forward to what comes out of their administrations.

So what are your thoughts? Is it the Chiefs who control”the strings” or is it City / County Administration (the politicians )? Is the old saying about the “poop” running down hill true or do we …. the “boots on the street” also have a say in the direction a Department takes?

How much is enough? How long can you strive and work toward positive change? Are they even listening to us? Is a new Chief enough to make a difference?

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines