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Commission works to resolve fire service issues

By Staff | Oct 7, 2016

Representatives from the West Virginia State Fire Commission recently appeared before the Jefferson County Commission to discus a 911 dispatching dispute with area fire departments because of lack of resolution, according to an agenda request.

The board moved to enter executive session before briefly discussing the situation and the commission’s intention to move forward with resolving the issue.

According to representatives, the State Fire Commission has been attempting to address questions and complaints from area fire officials concerning the 911 dispatching procedure. In late 2014, the Jefferson County 911 dispatch center implemented a “quickest route” method for alerting local departments to emergencies, but the software doesn’t align with the fire protection districts of local departments, according to the fire commission.

The software uses an algorithm of distances to send resources rather than using statutory powers of local departments.

Shepherdstown Fire Department Chief Ross Morgan spoke to the board about his concerns at its meeting last week.

“I think it’s a shame that it has come down to this point where (the fire commission) had to get involved. I was here about a year and several months ago stating the exact same thing, and not one of you all even acknowledged me … it fell on complete deaf ears,” Morgan said.

“You must remember … the true subject matter experts, and those are the volunteers in this county. If you combine the departments, that’s probably over 500 years of service. We should have a big voice in this. I’m hoping things will continue to move in the right direction, and I appreciate the fire commission getting involved.”

Commission President Patsy Noland responded to Morgan’s words and apologized.

“I didn’t understand the depth of the problem, and I don’t think any one of us sitting up here understood the depth of the problem until it was brought back to us after the meeting that was held at Snowshoe (with the fire commission),” Noland said.

“I was surprised. It was not that we were trying to overstep our bounds, we just didn’t know. We honestly didn’t know what the problem was until after that meeting.”

Nathan Cochran, legal counsel for the commission, gave a brief summary of the issues and how they will be addressed.

“We’ve been working very hard to try and resolve some issues with the chiefs. We’ve requested that the chiefs submit more information to us to allow us to input that data … so that we can better dispatch the items that they want, and we’re still working with them on that issue,” Cochran said.

“We hope, then, that that will mostly resolve the issue that we have had, which is when a chief has a fire, a structure fire especially, and requests a call for equipment that he’s going to receive certain equipment that he has predesignated be sent to that particular incident. The fire commission has stepped in and tried to make us aware of their concerns.”

Noland then gave Morgan her promise to quickly resolve the issue, but no direct action was taken out of executive session.