Debate Heats Up at Churchville Fire and Rescue Public Meeting

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Churchville Fire and Rescue is accused of failing to respond fast enough to several destructive and even deadly fires.  Saturday, firefighters and Augusta County supervisors faced the department's neighbors to address their complaints.

About 50 people turned out for the public meeting at Churchville Elementary School.  Only a handful were actually there to express their concerns, but the small crowd that spoke out still managed to spark quite a debate.

The volunteer-based group is under fire after some community members argue the department lacks staff to respond to nearby calls.  Supervisors say the county is prepared.

"We have a system that's based upon multiple responders because we know sometimes the station won't be manned," said Tracy Pyles, the Augusta County Pastures District Supervisor. "We had a fire in Churchville where the station at that time wasn't manned; we got responses from Swoope and Staunton first."

Pyles says the fire department needs help from surrounding stations because of the vast area that has to be covered.  He said, "We want to explain to them that's just how we operate our system and we have to do it because the size of the county and the sparseness of our population in many areas."

Three destructive fires have sparked in the Churchville area in recent weeks - destroying property, injuring two people, and killing four family members. A petition collected 400 signatures asking for paid staffers 24/7 to help avoid future tragedies.  Churchville Fire and Rescue currently has three paid firefighters, who work Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"We're looking at a lot of options, and one of those options of course is including career staff, more career staff, but it's kind of up in the air right now," said Churchville Fire and Rescue President Kristy McComas.

Churchville Fire and Rescue says its priority is to train and retain its 80 to 90 volunteers.  "We're diligently working, we have a lot of people coming in that are young, we have a lot of people that are in training right now that couldn't be here today because of it.  We're doing everything we can to try and move forward with our organization," McComas said.

Supervisors note adding paid firefighters will cost tax dollars.  "You can't fully staff a station with less than 12 people," Pyles said. "We have three now. That costs us $150,000 a year.  Twelve people, we're talking a half million dollars."

But it's something supervisors and staff say they're willing to continue discussing if that's what the Churchville community wants.

"We have to look at the greater good for the greater number," said Pyles.

McComas said, "I'm trying to work through these things and I'm trying to make us better community members and try to help others in the community help us, and I think it's a partnership that needs to be formed."

Supervisors say Churchville Fire and Rescue  responds to 1,400 calls a year. It didn't make the first response on just 64 of those calls.  Click here for a closer look at the figures and statistics presented at Saturday's meeting.