January 2011


After everyone had settled down with their potluck suppers and had a few minutes to chat, the meeting began with a welcome by Linda Swanson.

Linda then read the treasurer’s report provided by Joe Swift who forwarded the report because he knew he would be arriving too late to present it himself.  Joe reported that the $50 check for a gift certificate (a Christmas gift for Meg who helps us so much with arrangements at the Marshall Community Center) has cleared our account and also that he deposited $140 in contributions from our December meeting.  We currently have a balance in our account of $317.55.  This leaves us in very good shape since we have no anticipated expenses for the next few months.

Flash Reports
Lisa Chapman announced that the first meeting of the Fauquier Feminist Book Club will be on Saturday, January 15, 2011, from 2-4 PM at Dondoric Farm.  The book to be discussed is Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Ulrich.  All are invited to attend.

Linda announced that the speakers for our February meeting (February 13, 2011 from 5:30-7:30 PM at the Marshall Community Center) will be three women whose work involves animals:  Terri Porterfield will talk about Reesie’s Project which provides foster care for animals whose humans are temporarily unable to care for them due to certain difficulties such as domestic violence or homelessness; Jenny Spain will discuss her work at Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding School which offers, among other things, riding programs for individuals with disabilities; and Caroline Folker and Joan Hellandsjo of the Fauquier SPCA will tell us about their very important organization and what the community can do to help.  Mark your calendars!

Main Speakers
JL Combemale then introduced the evening’s two guest speakers, Fauquier County Fire and Rescue Chief Thomas Billington and President of the Fauquier Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association Tom Marable.  JL is himself a long-time member of the New Baltimore Fire & Rescue Company and we appreciate his arranging this meeting for us.   (The web site for the Fauquier County Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Management is here: http://fcfra.camp9.org/ .)

JL explained that in Fauquier we have a combination of career and volunteer fire and rescue workers.  Fauquier County is one of only two counties in this part of Virginia that still operates on the combination model.

Chief Billington arrived here from Martin County, Florida where he spent 31 years working in fire and rescue.  Tom Marable has been head of Fauquier’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association for the last eight years and is a 17-year volunteer with the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department.

Chief Billington and Tom Marable both narrated a Powerpoint presentation throughout the evening.  The Powerpoint presentation was excellent and very well organized.  The minutes will not be as well organized because our interested attendees had many questions throughout the evening and our speakers were kind enough to answer each of them as they came up, whether or not they dealt directly with the current Powerpoint topic.

Chief Billington began by telling us how impressed he was upon arriving in Fauquier with the high level of commitment and expertise of the personnel, both career and volunteer.  There are presently 685 volunteers working with the Fire and Rescue Department in Fauquier County.  Of those, 431 are active and responding regularly to emergencies, with the balance offering their volunteer hours in tasks that support the work of the first responders.  There are also 49 career personnel, with 11 new people coming on board thanks to a new federal grant.  The new hires will mean that Marshall will gain a 24-hour paramedic, and another 24-hour paramedic will likely be assigned to the southern end of the county.

There are 11 fire companies in the county, each operating as an independent corporation.  The companies are Warrenton, Remington, Marshall, The Plains, Upperville, Catlett, Goldvein, Marshall, Orlean, Lois, and New Baltimore.   Phone numbers and other information about these 11 companies can be found here:  http://fcfra.camp9.org/Default.aspx?pageId=834034

A few of the companies, primarily Warrenton, have career people on the job from 8:30-6:30 Monday – Friday.  Volunteers are also on call there 24/7 as they are for the companies that do not have paid personnel.  Our emergency responders are serving one of the most spread-out counties in Virginia and it is a challenge to cover such a large number of square miles.

Fauquier has a reimbursement program for ambulance rides, but the bills go to the patients’ insurance companies for payment.  If a resident of Fauquier County is billed for an ambulance ride but does not have insurance that will cover it, the cost will be written off.  The income from these ambulance charges pays for fuel for the fire and rescue vehicles and for two new 24-hour ambulances.  Some stations lost revenue from their fund raising drives after the ambulance reimbursement program was instituted, but the situation has improved over time.  More information about the ambulance reimbursement program can be found here:  http://fcfra.camp9.org/Default.aspx?pageId=833692

EMS is very advanced in Fauquier, but when patients require an actual trauma center they need to be transported (usually to the trauma centers at either Fairfax or Charlottesville) by helicopter or highway, depending on their location.

Firefighting is extremely manpower intensive.  A minimum of 20 people is needed to fight a house fire.

The volunteers in Fauquier maintain an excellent fleet of vehicles and apparatus and keep very good records on upkeep and maintenance.  The Livestock Exchange fire was a good example of how well the fleet worked since never once did they run out of water to fight that fire.

It’s true that the fleet may not be replaced as often as it should be, but costs are very high.  A vehicle that might have cost $300,000 17 years ago can now cost as much as $600,000.  A hook and ladder truck (Fauquier presently has only one) can cost upwards of $1 million.  So far our one hook and ladder truck has proved sufficient, but if new development occurs around Bealeton it may be necessary to purchase a second one.  The new trucks are sophisticated vehicles with as many as thirteen onboard computers to monitor speed, seat belts, and dozens of other aspects of vehicle safety and performance.  The National Fire Protection Association sets the standards for vehicles and the county must be in compliance.

Old trucks can be sold by brokers to fire companies in less prosperous area of the country or even overseas.  Some US companies are using vehicles built in the 1960s.  There is also a great deal of solidarity among fire companies nationally as was evidenced in the aftermath of Katrina when companies donated equipment to companies that had been wiped out in the hurricane.

Personnel working in heavy rescue must take hours and hours of special training mandated by OSHA.

In terms of disaster preparedness, NoVa chiefs meet once a month to go over evacuation plans, issues related to terrorism, and many other topics related to public safety.  We have one of the best emergency operation centers in Virginia.  The county regularly runs multiple scenarios to increase preparedness.  These are announced exercised and they are very sophisticated, even as compared to those run by large cities.

The 911 Center in Warrenton has a direct, live connection to the state emergency management staff so that they work together, as was done during the snow emergencies last winter.  For more information about Fauquier’s emergency preparedness, go here:  http://fcfra.camp9.org/Default.aspx?pageId=833692

Every one of the eleven fire and rescue corporations in the county has its own constitution and bylaws and they may differ from each other in terms of organization.  But the protocol for responding to calls is completely standardized across the county so that responders from any part of the county, whether they are career personnel or volunteers, will know how to function in any other part of the country.  They are all using the same protocol.  The livestock exchange fire last year was a good example of how well everyone works together in a crisis.  (There were individuals from six jurisdictions in addition to Fauquier working as a unit on that fire.)

The Fire Marshall is responsible for fire prevention, inspections and blueprint reviews.

The women who serve in the department are required to undergo exactly the same training as the men and they must pass the same exams, both physical and mental.  Some of the nearly 700 volunteers have not yet passed those exams so they do not respond to emergencies, but they do support that work in other capacities.  To learn more about training of Fauquier emergency personnel, go here:  http://fcfra.camp9.org/FauquierTraining&Logistics

In some Fauquier families there are several generations of firefighters.  In some cases the family history of contributing to the community through this kind of service goes back 90 years!  Some Fauquier communities, however, have no residents who volunteer even though the communities include many people who could qualify.  These communities turn out to have more of a suburban character than most of Fauquier.  Many of the families moved to Fauquier from Fairfax (where the firefighters are paid) and have no tradition of volunteering as firefighters.

One problem the department in Fauquier faces is that some people work here as volunteers for five years and leave as soon as they are eligible to take paid jobs in other counties that have more paid personnel.  Sometimes, however, those same people return to Fauquier with the knowledge they gained in larger departments and share that information with the Fauquier department.

In 2010 the Fauquier Fire and Rescue Department received requests related to 11,000 incidents–75 percent of them requiring emergency medical service and 25 percent fire or hazard services.

There was a discussion of the budget that will be over $7 million for 2011.   [Apologies from the note-taker for her failure to record all the figures.]  The volunteer companies raise 60% of their expenses through events such as, for example, Bingo in Catlett – one of the most successful Bingo operations in Virginia – or pancake breakfasts or oyster suppers.  The Catlett department pays $9,000 each month in vehicle payments from the interest on their Bingo income.

Chief Billington showed a slide comparing Fauquier with his former county of residence in Florida.  The square miles are fairly similar and each county has 11 fire companies.  Fauquier’s personnel are career plus volunteers.  The Florida county has all paid personnel.  Fauquier’s 2011 budget is just over $7 million and the Florida county’s is just over $38 million.

People in Fauquier should know that each area of the county has been given response criteria that specify how long the response time is expected to be.  The Department is always striving to reduce the response time, but citizens might want to know if, for example, the required response time where they live or work is 15 minutes – or perhaps much less.

The fire station in Lois is the only one that is not owned or on land owned by the county.  They have not been charged rent for nearly ten years, however, and there is an effort being made to purchase the land and building.

The Department, while run extremely efficiently, is planning ahead for long-term needs that will require enormous expenditures.  For example, the air packs firefighters wear when entering smoky buildings must comply with OSHA regulations that are updated from time to time.  In the year 2013, all the air packs in Fauquier will need to be replaced at a cost of $2 million.

While Fauquier can be proud of having an extraordinarily efficient and well-run program, we fall short when compared to some standards.  For example, we have one career person per 2,031 people.  The International City/County Management Association states that the ration should be one career person per 1,000 people.

If you wish to contribute to the Department or need more information, you can call 540-422-8800.

It was apparent by the number of questions that everyone was engaged by our guest speakers and their work.  Quite a few questions were asked privately after our 7:30 meeting’s end and our speakers were kind enough to stay late to answer them.

Be sure to join us next month for another very interesting meeting.  You can always find the details at http://www.sundaysupperclub.org

Best wishes!
Linda Swanson