Bristol, Va councilman proposing volunteer firefighters, still no cuts to the department

BRISTOL, VA (WJHL) – Bristol, Va City Councilman, Kevin Wingard presented a new proposal to council Tuesday night that could add volunteer fire departments to the force for the first time.

Last month city council approved a proposal to cut 10 firefighter positions in an effort to deal with debt but before last week’s public hearing on the budget, the council decided not to make those cuts.

Councilman Wingard called tonight’s meeting to discuss the budget further with the council and to present his proposal.

“As fireman retire, they move, whatever the case may be that we replace that slot with a volunteer,” Councilman Wingard said.

Wingard said there are four openings in the fire department that could be filled with volunteers. He said the city could save $200,000 every year and this could get the city at a healthy 10 volunteers and 33 paid positions over time without cutting jobs. He stressed he doesn’t want a 100% volunteer force and he wants to keep the 3 stations open with 43 firefighter positions.

This is all in an effort to get the city out of nearly $100 million in debt and prepare for refinancing of bonds for The Falls development in three years. Fire Chief Mike Armstrong said he isn’t against looking into volunteers.

Fire Chief Mike Armstrong said he isn’t against looking into volunteers.

“If we can have volunteers that sign up that are fully trained and qualified we would certainly welcome that idea if they can supplement and augment our operation that would be great,” Chief Armstrong said. He added that finding trained volunteers can be difficult and there are costs associated with training inexperienced firefighters.

Armstrong said they’ve requested a free study with the Virginia Fire Services Board, they’ll come in and spend two to three days reviewing the fire department and they’ll let them know where they’re doing well and where they can improve. They’re also working on a study with the International Association of Firefighters. Armstrong is hoping to present that updated information to council when those studies are complete.

Mayor Bill Hartley said he appreciates the proposal but disagrees.

“Freezing positions and trying to back fill them with volunteers is not the way to go. I think you could maybe look at that to help offset some of the overtime we’re paying now,” Mayor Hartley said.

As of right now, the budget remains the same and still does not include any cuts to the fire department.

Councilman Wingard declined an on-camera interview following the meeting. Councilman Doug Fleenor and Vice Mayor Archie Hubbard were not present.

The Bristol Fire fighters Association issued a statement following the meeting saying: “We thank council for keeping public safety a priority. Bristol’s residents and visitors deserve continued prompt response to fire and medical emergencies.”

The first reading of the budget is set for June 13 at the Bristol, Va School Board Office.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

 

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