Virginia Incident Spurs Fire Response Review

Many volunteers believe paid people are not held to the same high standard they are.


STAFFORD COUNTY, Va.-- An outside expert will review emergency procedures at a Stafford County house fire this week, in the wake of a conflict between paid and volunteer units responding to the blaze.

Eleven units, paid and volunteer, answered the call from Rosedale Drive in the Rock Hill area Tuesday. County spokesperson Cathy Riddle said there are allegations about the responders' "behavior."

Fire and Rescue Chief Rob Brown asked County Administrator Steve Crosby to hire the third-party reviewer.

"We want the most objective review possible and the best way is to bring someone not involved," Riddle said.

The review comes amid lingering turmoil between fire and rescue's paid and volunteer workers.

Many volunteers believe paid people are not held to the same high standard they are. Career staff dispute that, saying recent efforts to expand paid positions and punish suspected rule violators is in the interest of improving emergency service.

Lt. Erick Kling, union president for Stafford County Professional Firefighter's Association, said he is "pleased to know there will be a review of the conduct for the fire that happened on May 15."

Kling, along with a number of other county officials, declined to comment further on details of the fire.

But fire department sources say a number of officers, volunteer and paid, were on the scene before the the first engine--Mountain View--arrived within 12 minutes of the 3:08 p.m. 911 call. Stafford Volunteer Fireman's Association--or Company 2--which sits next to the courthouse, arrived second.

Stafford's standard operating procedures say the first responder usually begins to attack the fire and assumes incident command. The second team usually follows the first team's direction and supplies it water.

Two paid fire and rescue workers said volunteers from Company 2 refused to be the backup water supply, pulled its own hose and "raced" Mountain View into the home.

"If that is the case, and I have a fireman in my station that refuses to pick up water, I will personally take them down right then," said John McDonald, volunteer Chief for Company 2.

He was not there for the Rosedale Drive incident. But after a few days of collecting information about it, he believes the events unfolded differently.

He said he understood that the incident commander did not give any specific orders to his team of volunteers.

The crew noticed on arrival that Mountain View had already pulled its longest line. They didn't know whether another was available, he said. And they decided to pull their own hose to the rear of the home as backup.

Knowing that other engines were on the way, the drivers of the two trucks agreed to let arriving crews support the water supply instead, McDonald said.

"Could it it have been done differently? Absolutely," he said. "Should it have been done differently? Absolutely. But no one ran out of water."

According to STATter 911, a blog on WUSA9.com, two volunteers have been temporarily suspended as a result of the incident. But neither the station nor the county would confirm that because it is a personnel issue.

Two paid firefighters also say they are concerned about another incident from Tuesday's fire. A Company 2 volunteer, trying to enter or ventilate the structure hit an Aquia Harbour firefighter in the leg with a saw, badly tearing up his pants but not injuring him.

"It is not unusual to critique and review an incident in question," McDonald said. "We will look for any wrongdoing and will hold people accountable. There are lessons to be learned from this incident, and I look forward to working with the county."

Republished with permission of The Free Lance-Star.