Buckhannon City Council recently appointed recorder Randy Sanders as the city representative who will serve on the Upshur County Firefighter Association Committee addressing staffing shortages. / Photo by Beth Christian Broschart

City appoints rep to committee tackling countywide fire department staffing shortages

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon’s city recorder has been appointed to serve on an Upshur County Firefighter Association committee focused on addressing staffing shortages and other issues in county volunteer fire departments.

Buckhannon City Council at its Thursday, April 7 council meeting voted to approve appointing Randy Sanders, city recorder and information coordinator, to serve on a special committee within the Upshur County Firefighter Association. Sanders will serve on the committee in hopes of addressing staffing shortages and other fire service coverage issues within Upshur County’s seven fire departments.

Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner said the Upshur County Firefighter Association, which meets monthly, has established a committee made up of representatives from all county fire departments in Upshur County. The association has begun to meet regularly again, Skinner added.

“One of the issues they are trying to tackle in the county is the lack of staffing,” Skinner said. “This Association is putting together a committee to address this with the Upshur County Commission, as well as within the departments, to get more members and to potentially help prioritize some funding from the county to strategically place paid staff members in different departments in the county.”

Skinner said what Buckhannon City Council needs to do is appoint a member to the Association to represent Buckhannon on the task force.

“Mr. Sanders, Councilwoman Sheila Lewis-Sines, Councilman Dave Thomas and I have been attending these meetings, and Randy asked if he could serve on the committee,” the mayor said. “I think that is a good move for us, so I would like to ask the Council for approval to appoint Randy Sanders to the Upshur County Firefighter Association Committee to address staffing issues within the departments.”

The recommendation, which received a motion from Councilman CJ Rylands and a second from Councilman Jack Reger, passed unanimously with Sanders abstaining from the vote due to a conflict of interest.

Skinner also said the Southern Upshur Business Association, or SUBA, is working to get the attention of Upshur County Commissioners to say staffing of volunteer fire departments is a real problem in Upshur County. Upshur County Commission president Kristie Tenney recently assisted in jumpstarting an initiative through which Buckhannon-Upshur High School seniors and business and marketing instructor Dr. Justin Bowers are working to develop a marketing campaign to attract volunteer firefighters to all county departments.

The mayor said the city hopes to work with the county and the Firefighter Association to come up with a solution.

“I offered that we are participating [in Upshur County Firefighter Association meetings] but really do not have a position in the Upshur County Firefighters Association because the City of Buckhannon and the City Council — we are taking care of our city fire department by staffing and equipment,” Skinner said. “And all of this [countywide shortage in volunteers] is falling on our shoulders as a department.”

The city hired two additional firefighters for the Buckhannon Fire Department in November 2021 after receiving approval from council to increase its paid staff from six to nine paid career firefighters, plus a chief. Buckhannon fire chief JB Kimble and other officials within the department have stated that three paid staff per shift is the minimum number of firefighters necessary to meet minimum safety standards, according to several previous My Buckhannon articles.

“We cannot be the mechanism to pay for added staffing throughout the county,” Skinner added. “This has got to come from the courthouse, so, I think the more people we can get involved in this conversation to bring attention to the fact that this is a problem in Upshur County, the better.”

Kimble, the city fire chief, explained the function of the committee to which Sanders was appointed.

“Back in January, we all voted that the biggest issue we all face is volunteerism,” Kimble said. “This committee was designed to start collecting data, look at community expectations and find out what we should truly be providing to our community and at what standards. That being said, as time goes on, this is not going to happen overnight. We are trying everything we can to recruit more volunteers, but it is just difficult.”

The Buckhannon Fire Department is the only combined career-volunteer fire department in the county, with all of the paid firefighters also serving as volunteers. The other six county fire departments are comprised only of volunteers; they include Washington District Volunteer Fire Company (Tallmansville), Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department, Banks District Volunteer Fire Department, Adrian Volunteer Fire Department, Warren District Volunteer Fire Department (Hodgesville) and Selbyville Volunteer Fire Department.

Sanders said he looks forward to serving on the Upshur County Firefighter Association Committee.

“I appreciate council’s confidence,” Sanders remarked. “There are hard questions to ask, and I think we have a model with Berkeley County to look at to see what someone else has done and how they accomplished that. It may not fit here, but we need the state legislators [to become involved] and let them know what is going on — not only in Upshur County, but in every county across the state and the country.”

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