“We’re in trouble” — Firefighters to form community group tasked with solving manpower crisis

BUCKHANNON – Facinging countywide manpower issues, the Upshur County Firefighters Association voted this week to form a committee to bring the community together to find solutions. The group will consist of firefighters, county and city government officials, local business representatives from the city and southern part of the county, and a community member.

The Upshur County Firefighters Association met on March 30 for their monthly meeting, where they continued discussing ongoing manpower issues.

“We’re in trouble guys,” Upshur County Firefighters Association president John Roby said. “I can speak for Banks District — I can’t speak for these other departments — but at Banks District, I’ve been running these Buckhannon paid guys, and I want to thank the city for doing that, but that’s how shorthanded we are. We have problems, and the only answer I see moving forward is that we look towards the county and the public to figure out a way we can get some paid guys throughout this county.”

Roby said he was open to other suggestions to solve the manpower problems, but the data showed that paid county firefighters would be the most effective option.

“We’ve done a lot of research, we got a lot of data,” Roby said. “We’re not pushing for this right now; first we want to we want to hear from the citizens, we want to hear the ideas that you guys may have about volunteers — what do we do? How do we get them? Is it time to move to paid people?”

Currently, only the Buckhannon Fire Department has paid firefighters. City residents and businesses pay more than $1 million in taxes and fees each year toward funding the department, but nearly half the calls originate outside the town’s borders.

Buckhannon Fire Department chief JB Kimble noted that during his department’s accreditation process, he found that when Buckhannon’s paid firefighters respond to a fire outside the city, it leaves the city short-staffed.

“Any major fire in our county will require all seven fire departments, and it shouldn’t be like that,” Kimble said. “A lot of people try to tell us to go out and recruit people, but have you tried to hire people lately? You can’t hire people, so how are you going to ask anybody to come and take these classes, when you don’t make any money and you might get a slap on the back every once in a while? You get praise in the community, but you leave your family, leave birthday parties, tear up your clothes, use your own fuel at $5 a gallon now — and you don’t get paid.”

Kimble said none of the county’s fire departments are meeting certain standards for response times or staffing.

“We are at a critical point right now,” Kimble said. “There are staffing standards for fires, and the first-alarm assignment should be 14 firefighters within nine minutes. Out in the county has a 15-minute response, typically, and you’ll have six people. So we’re not even coming close to meeting any type of standard.”

He made a motion to create a committee consisting of two volunteer firefighters, a county representative, a city representative, business representatives from the city and southern end of the county, and a citizen representative, to come up with a solution to these problems. The motion passed and the committee agreed to send letters requesting participation from all entities.

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