PRINCE GEORGE — Despite recent claims by one volunteer firefighter that paid and volunteer Fire and EMS crews are not able to work together, others say they train, respond and even live along side of each other while putting their differences aside to accomplish any mission that helps protect the citizens of Prince George and neighboring communities they support.
According to Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens, at many stations the volunteers and paid crews not only work together, they live together as they work different shifts and sometimes sleep at the station as they stay prepared for any emergency call.
During a January County Board of Supervisors meeting, Kevin Foster, a longtime Prince George Company 1 volunteer firefighter, said that paid staff are harassing volunteers who are doing the same work without receiving any salary.
“I, along with a number of volunteers, are concerned about the state of affairs when it comes to day-to-day management, counterproductive management, financial, physical, and human resource mismanagement of the combined Fire and EMS system,” the 36-year veteran volunteer firefighter said.
Foster, also a School Board member, claimed the ordinance that created the combined system, “has created a divide between career and volunteer participants, and gives an unreasonable and unjustified authority to one individual and created an environment where volunteers are not considered valued or considered equal to those collecting a paycheck.”
The public safety workers at Jefferson Park Volunteer Fire Department voice a different story. Both the paid staff and volunteers at the Jefferson Park station say they are workmen together out of the same station where they conduct meetings, training and eat and sleep.
Company 5 Chief Timothy Flynn says the two groups are one team and work together on any calls that require their service.
“When someone calls 911, they don’t care if those who respond are career or volunteer,” Flynn noted. “They don’t even know you are career and volunteer [working together] to do everything we can for them no matter the circumstances.”
Over time localities across the nation have had to supplement their volunteer public safety forces with career crews especially to help fill the daytime needs while the volunteers are working their paid jobs and to answer calls in the middle of the night.
At Jefferson Park, three people are running calls, whether it’s fire, a traffic accident or medical issue and always one of them is a volunteer, Capt. Jason Koren says.
Koren began his career at Prince George first starting as a volunteer explaining that many of the paid crew were volunteers here before taking on the job as a career staff member.
“We know each other, we’ve already worked together and we have learned from each other,” said Koren who started volunteering in 1999.
After about eight years on the job, he says he still has the same commitment as he did when volunteering, “My heart is with this station and those who come together to help the community. We could not do it without the volunteers, and we know we have to work together.”
Koren will admit that whenever volunteer forces are being supplemented with paid crews there are growing pains.
“It does have its’ challenges, just like everything,” Koren says. “But we try to make it as seamless as possible.”
Prince George County has 14 full-time and 26 part-time career personnel who help supplement the volunteer force. There are five volunteer fire companies with six stations, one volunteer emergency crew and an administrative office. Prior to the creation of a combined system, volunteers were managed through their advisory board and chiefs and did not fall under the direction of the fire and EMS director.
By Adrienne Wallace, Herald-Post
Adrienne Wallace is editor of the Hopewell Herald Prince George Post, a sister paper of the Progress-Index.