Pantops Fire Rescue Station



Review station and staffing plan



Messrs. Tucker, Elliott, Davis, and Eggleston






January 23, 2008


ACTION:      X          INFORMATION: 



  ACTION:              INFORMATION:   








Several studies, including the 2007 City/County consolidation analysis and draft recommendations of the Pantops Master Plan, have identified the need to establish a fire rescue station in the Pantops development area. The justification to build the station is based on three primary goals:


1.    To support the County’s Land Use policy by providing a basic level of fire rescue services in the development areas.


2.    Replace City Fire Services currently provided through the City/County Fire Contract.


3.    Achieve a higher level of service for this development area which is not currently provided through the City contract.


Funding for the establishment of a station within the Pantops development area is currently programmed in the adopted CIP as well as in staff’s proposed 5-year operating budget model.


During the May 2007 Board meeting, staff reviewed with the Board the need for a Pantops Fire Rescue station and reviewed the associated staffing plan. At the conclusion of the presentation, the Board voted 5 to 1 to move forward with a temporary station in the Pantops development area in FY09.


Staff further discussed the Pantops Fire Rescue Station during the Board’s fall 2007 retreat, and the Board reaffirmed the need for the Pantops station as well as the need to hire career staff to ensure consistent and reliable service.  Based on the Board’s direction, County staff has moved forward with plans for establishing this station including identifying sites and discussing leasing land for the temporary facility to be operational by July 2009.


However, during the Board’s 5-Year Financial planning session held in December of 2007, some Board members questioned the need for the Pantops Station and requested that staff provide additional information for their review. Staff understood that the concerns mainly centered on the staffing plan that calls for hiring 12 career staff. Furthermore, staff believes that the Board wishes to better understand the need for 12 career staff verses reducing the total number of career staff and recruiting additional volunteer staff.



Goal 1: Enhance the Quality of Life for All Albemarle County Residents




The Need for a Pantops Fire Rescue Station


Staff, along with two independent consultants and the Fire Rescue Volunteer Advisory Board, have researched the need for a Pantops Station and have determined that a Fire Rescue station is needed in the central part of the Pantops development area. The conclusion to add a Pantops Fire Rescue Station is based on the following key points:


1.       The City Fire Department’s current 10 minute/90% response time to the Pantops development area is not meeting the County’s response time goal, as defined in the Comprehensive Plan, and trends show that the City response times are increasing.


2.       The Pantops Development Area is the highest risk development area in the County due to the at-risk population (over 27 percent of the Pantops population is over age 65) and at-risk facilities (currently 640 elderly care units are located here while Martha Jefferson Hospital is building a 1.0 million square foot hospital).



3.       Response time analysis of East Rivanna VFD and Monticello FR indicate neither station can reach the Pantops area in less than 10 minutes, 90% of the time due to geographical constraints and vehicular traffic volume even if additional resources are provided at those stations.


4.       Due to growth and development in the area (population growth, growth in at-risk population, vehicle movement increases, development of residential/commercial/institutional facilities) calls for service are increasing.


The three person engine company currently provided by the City under contract must be replaced in order to continue to support Stony Point VFD, East Rivanna VFD, and Monticello FR. Considering that the likely cost to renew the contract is approximately $2 million dollars as identified in the consolidation study, staff recommends that the Board invest in County resources (i.e. – Pantops Fire Rescue Station ) to achieve the response time goal on Pantops as well as provide a three person engine company resource to the remainder of the fire rescue system rather than making a commensurate level of investment in the City system.


Staffing Plan


To assist with assessing the performance of Albemarle County’s volunteer recruitment efforts as well as to provide the Board with an idea of the staff required to support the Pantops Fire Station, it is helpful to look at the national trend in volunteer recruitment as well as the experiences of other like size localities with similar fire and EMS systems (those that include both volunteer and career personnel). 


The United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) report a nationwide decline in the number of active volunteer firefighters nationally since 1984 (Retention and Recruitment for the Volunteer Emergency Services, Challenges and Solutions, May 2007).  Nationally, volunteer numbers have shown a decline of about 1% annually. 


In a recent survey conducted by Albemarle County Fire Rescue (ACFR), 50% of the benchmark localities surveyed (10 localities surveyed) reported a net annual decrease in the number of total volunteers.  Albemarle County recruits 150 volunteers annually; however, 135 volunteers also leave the system each year, yielding a net increase of 15 volunteers, or 2%, annually.  Of the five localities reporting a net increase in volunteers, Albemarle is ranked second in terms of net new volunteers recruited.


Staff has analyzed the number of career staff or equivalent volunteer staff required for the Pantops station.  There are several staffing models that have been evaluated to ensure that a 3 person engine company can be deployed consistently and reliably from the Pantops station. These models are listed in the table below: 



24/7 Career Staff

1 Volunteer


24/7 Volunteer Staff

Career Staff needed




Volunteer Staff needed





Staff continues to recommend hiring 12 career personnel to provide one Engine Company 24/7 from the Pantops station.  Within several years an ambulance is planned to be added.  This is important to note as it highlights the need for a continued volunteer recruitment effort to ensure as many trained volunteers as possible are ready to help staff the ambulance when it is placed in service.  Experience with both the Monticello and Hollymead stations has shown that recruitment efforts are more successful once the station is established as opposed to recruiting volunteers for a station that does not yet exist.


If the Board were to decide to reduce the number of career staff from 12 to 10 personnel and rely on volunteers to provide one firefighter each weeknight and all weekend, then 11-15 volunteers would be necessary to sustain minimum staffing.  This effort could be accomplished in one of two ways:


1.       Relocating Volunteers from Existing Stations


This effort would entail relocating volunteers recruited throughout the year from the station where the volunteer joined initially to the Pantops station.  This is a significantly different philosophy than what is currently practiced.  Currently, an individual wishing to volunteer in his/her community would work at the station within their community.


Relocating a volunteer to a station outside of the community in which he/she lives is not conducive to the overall retention of volunteers.  Additionally, staff expects an impact on the Training Division to prepare 15 volunteer

personnel to serve in a minimum staffing capacity.  This activity is typically accomplished by company officers at stations where sufficient staff exists to provide the basic engine company service as well as initial crew readiness training.



2.       Focused Volunteer Recruitment Efforts for Pantops


This alternative involves conducting a focused recruiting effort to enlist 15 volunteers specifically for Pantops in addition to those already recruited within the system (for a total of 30 new volunteers).  Assuming this effort is successful, these volunteers must be trained separately as their numbers alone will fill a training class.  Given existing resources, training will be delayed for volunteers recruited within the rest of the system while the Training Division focuses on training and development for the new Pantops volunteers.  Delaying current volunteer academies will negatively impact recruitment and retention for existing volunteer stations.


Since the Board voted in May 2007 to move forward with a temporary station in FY09, staff has tentatively negotiated an agreement with a property owner to establish a temporary fire rescue station site on Pantops until a more permanent site can be identified. In addition, staff has engaged with the Pantops Advisory Council to help with the implementation of the new Pantops Fire Rescue station and has started the process of procuring a fire engine so that delivery will occur prior to the opening of the station.


While no further action from the Board is required at this time to continue the process of establishing a temporary station in FY09, staff needs further direction from the Board relating to the staffing plan for the station.  Moving forward with hiring 12 career staff will ensure that the Pantops engine company is able to respond 24/7 consistently and reliably.  Reducing staff from 12 to 10 career staff will likely have a significant impact on the remainder of the fire rescue system as noted above.



Reducing the career staff from 12 to 10 will reduce:

FY09 budget impact by   $62,469

FY10 budget impact by $129,814



Staff recommends that the Board affirm its direction that 12 career staff be included in the FY09 budget proposal for the establishment of a Fire/Rescue station in the Pantops development area and that there be a continuing priority effort to recruit volunteers to help staff this station.


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