Reporter: Rachel Schaerr | Videographer: RJ Burnette
Amherst, VA - Amherst's Fire Chief is asking for one paid position to make up for fewer volunteer firefighters.
He calls it a matter of public safety and will take up the issue at Tuesday night's board of supervisor's meeting.
The fire chief's proposal is to put a full time public safety employee at the fire department from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. Right now, he says they don't have enough people to cover the daytime hours, and he says the economy's to blame.
Volunteer fire departments across the state are facing the same problem: fewer volunteers, less money and more required training.
"We haven't had the situation for people not to respond to calls. Has there been a limited response? Yes," explained Public Safety Director Gary Roakes.
Right now the Amherst Fire Department has 17 volunteers on the roster. But the chief says during the daytime, there are only actually two or three people available to answer calls.
"90 to 95 % of the calls that the fire department responds to, you can handle with two or three people. However, you never know when that brush fire, you never know when that structure fire's gonna come in," Roakes added.
Chief Tom Shrader is proposing a short term fix to a long term problem. Adding a public safety position to the Amherst Fire Department would cost the county about $40,000 to $45,000 in salary and benefits. They could respond to fires or EMS calls when volunteers cannot. The chief says it's one solution to keep the county from paying an even greater price.
"If the situation continues as is there could be dangers to the volunteers and the citizens of the county," Chief Shrader added.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the public safety director will ask to increase ambulance fees. Roakes says since the program is completely self-sustaining, it will cost health insurance providers, not the county any money.