LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — The Ashburn Volunteer Rescue Fire Department has raised concerns regarding a change to 24-hour shifts for Loudoun career firefighters.
The current system allows Loudoun County career firefighters working 12-hour day shifts for those who are assigned to volunteer-staffed positions. The volunteers provide front-line coverage for 12-hour shifts overnight.
In November 2019, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to change Loudoun County career firefighters to 24-hour shifts. Volunteer firefighters have two main concerns: volunteer retention, and tax payer money.
“It’s essentially saying, ‘You’re not good enough, we’re going to put somebody else here to do the job, we’re gonna relegate you to a second tier,'” said Josh Townsend, President of the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. “That becomes incredibly demoralizing, and will lead us to lose volunteers.”
But Keith Johnson, Chief of the Loudoun County Combined Fire & Rescue System, said that the decision was passed because Loudoun County fire departments were the only firefighters not on a 24-hour shift, unlike Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. He says that if anything, the retention issues come from having the shorter shifts.
In a press release, the Ashburn Volunteer Rescue Fire Department expressed the concern of excess staff, such as housing issues.
“This decision threatens the volunteers’ role because the county could force the volunteers to house the extra career staff members at night, despite the fact that volunteers will also be present and on duty. In other jurisdictions, this has led to career firefighters taking over the first tier staffing, while volunteers were forced to serve as back-up or supplemental staffing,” said the press release.
But Johnson says that they are not forcing career staff into volunteer stations at night. He says that if the volunteers are staffed at night, they will put the career firefighters into other roles, such as releasing overtime and cross-staffing units.
“If a volunteer company is short staffed, we can provide them career firefighters to staff their station….By this efficiency, we would be able to give them staffing without the use of overtime, thus reducing the cost of the taxpayer,” said Johnson.
The press release also raised the concern of cost and tax increase. “The net result of this decision may be increased taxes as the $27.6m in annual value contributed by the volunteers in Loudoun is offset by career personnel being paid to sleep while volunteers continue to freely serve our communities,” read the press release.
“As a citizen and a tax payer here in Ashburn, it really concerns me that we would be essentially double-paying, when volunteers are already in the stations, really doing the job,” said Townsend.
However, Johnson says that tax increases are not the case. “That dollar amount that he referenced has nothing to do with a cost increase to a citizen of Loudoun County,” he said. “That amount was the value of Volunteer Providers to the Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System. The implementation of the 24-hour shift and 48-hour work week will not cost taxpayers any additional money. In fact, we will see an increase in efficiency, meaning our overtime and in the evening hours will go down. We will also be able to staff additional units that we do not staff today.”
Johnson also said the notion that any firefighter would be sleeping on the job without staffing an operational unit is “unconscionable” and would be a “fraud to taxpayers.” This simply is not the case, Johnson says.
Overall, Johnson wants Loudoun County residents to know that no matter what, they are being protected 24/7 by highly qualified staff.
“Our mission at Loudoun County Fire and Rescue is to provide residents and visitors with efficient, cost-effective fire protection, rescue and emergency medical services.”
President Townsend spoke at the Loudon County Board of Supervisor’s meeting on Oct. 20th. His full remarks can be read here.