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With increased financial investments from the Board of Supervisors, oversight and guidance from the Fire and Rescue Commission, and assistance from the Public Safety Department, nearly every Pittsylvania County volunteer EMS agency has improved its response rate - or the amount of calls it covers compared to the number it is dispatched to. All but two of the twelve different volunteer agencies improved their response rates from FY 2021 to FY 2020.
"We are incredibly proud and appreciative of our volunteer agencies and the dedicated individuals across our county that have improved their response rates," said Ron Scearce, Vice-Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors and representative on the Fire and Rescue Commission. "This Board of Supervisors is passionate about fire and rescue services, so we have not only increased our financial commitments to these agencies by 76% over the past several years but created the Fire and Rescue Commission to improve operations and collaboration. We are thrilled with the way our volunteer agencies have risen to the occasion and improved the service to our citizens."
On average, Pittsylvania County volunteer agencies increased their response rate by about 14%, bringing the total volunteer response rate to 89%. This increase comes despite the Pittsylvania County 911 Center receiving 1,400 more EMS calls in FY 2021 than the previous year. For rescue calls, the only two agencies that didn't improve response rates were Ringgold Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Mount Hermon Volunteer Fire and Rescue.
“I am thrilled with the improvements that our volunteer agencies are making, particularly in the number of calls they are responding to,” said Bob Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. “The Board of Supervisors, Pittsylvania County Public Safety staff and the Fire and Rescue Commission will keep working closely with each and every agency, and particularly the two that didn't increase their response rate in FY 21, to ensure continued improvement and sustained success.”
Significant changes have been brought about by the Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Commission - an advisory body made up of citizens and fire and rescue representatives that works with Public Safety, the Board of Supervisors, and each of the volunteer fire and rescue agencies. This commission helped develop rules that require agencies to respond to a certain percentage of their calls before receiving all their county funds and created a new funding structure that bases the portion of county funding to each agency on call volume.
"The Fire and Rescue Commission is committed to continuing to partner with the Board of Supervisors and each of our volunteer agencies to improve the reliability and quality of the services provided to county residents and businesses," said Bryan Fox, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Fire and Rescue Commission. "I am extremely pleased with the progress we are already seeing among our agencies, and I am optimistic that the Fire and Rescue Commission will continue helping move fire and rescue services forward in Pittsylvania County.”
In terms of call volume, Gretna Volunteer Fire and Rescue was dispatched to the most EMS calls with a yearly total of 1,576, and the agency still maintained a 99% response rate. Blairs Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Chatham Rescue Squad both were dispatched to more than 1,000 calls during the year, and Blairs maintained a 95% response rate compared to the 82% for Chatham. In its first year as a Rescue Squad, Cascade Volunteer Fire and Rescue maintained a 99% response rate for approximately 150 calls.
Some agencies saw drastic turnarounds, while others saw moderate increases, and other high-performing agencies saw barely any change. For instance, Tunstall Fire and Rescue maintained the same 99% response rate, whereas Chatham Rescue Squad jumped from a 25% response rate in FY 2020 to an 82% response rate in FY 2021.
Out of the 21 volunteer fire departments in Pittsylvania County, 13 maintained a response rate of 99% or better, while 17 responded to at least 89% of the calls where they were dispatched. Gretna Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Blairs Volunteer Fire and Rescue were dispatched to more than 300 fire-related calls apiece, and each maintained a response rate of 100%. It is difficult to compare year-over-year fire call coverage data because the previous system counted many calls that were not fire-related as fire calls.
"Many agencies are at 90% or better response rates, and most fire agencies provided 100% coverage," said Chris Slemp, Pittsylvania County Public Safety Director. "These numbers show we are headed in the right direction and the hard work of our volunteers and investments of our county leaders in our Public Safety system is paying off."