Va. county changes volunteer firefighter dispatch policies

The new processes aim to improve safety, incorporating lessons learned from a tragic incident that took the life of a young volunteer firefighter

The Progress - Index

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — The way the county's Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services responds to calls is changing. Starting March 1, volunteers won't be using red lights in their personal vehicles; tanker trucks will go to calls within the speed limit and without using lights and sirens; and if a volunteer unit isn't staffed, it won't be dispatched.

"Many of the new processes are the result of benchmarking procedures with other successful fire and EMS departments incorporating lessons learned from a tragic incident that took the life of a young volunteer county firefighter, Brad McNeer," Fire and EMS Chief Edward L. Senter Jr. said in a press release about the changes. "We continually look for ways to minimize risks to emergency personnel and the public."

Among the leading threats to the safety of emergency responders nationwide are traffic hazards encountered while responding to incidents. Each year, about 13,500 incidents on the nation's roads involve emergency vehicles, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

In 2010, the Chesterfield County Department of Fire and EMS responded to 32,971 calls for service and recorded 29 vehicle incidents. All but two were considered unavoidable.

Chesterfield Fire and EMS Lt. Jason Elmore said that the policy revision is something that's been in the works for some time.

"This is something that Chief Senter has been working on since he started here," Elmore said.

Senter has been Chief of Chesterfield Fire and EMS since November 2008, according to Elmore.

Elmore said that the department has been fortunate and no firefighters or paramedics have been injured in any accidents since McNeer's fatal accident in 1999.

"This benefits [the volunteers]," Elmore said. "It benefits all of us because it's a way to make sure that everyone goes home at theof their shift."

Additionally, the changes in policy are to help speed response time.

Currently, the county only has two full volunteer stations — Station 6 in Enon and Station 10 on Atkins Road. With the new unit-based dispatching, only staffed units will be dispatched first. Elmore said that volunteers can still respond if the incident commander deems it necessary or the volunteers are in station ready to be dispatched.

"Currently if there's a call in their area — Enon for instance — Station 6 will be dispatched first. If they haven't marked responding within four minutes, the next nearest station, at Rivers Bend will be dispatched," Elmore said. "What Chief Senter is looking to do is avoid that four-minute delay."

Chesterfield County has 423 career firefighters and 100 volunteers.

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