Prince William County Department of Fire & Rescue Service Chief Kevin McGee, citing a hostile work environment, has shutdown the Gainesville District Volunteer Fire Department. Chief McGee is following the direction of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in their vote Friday to order a takeover of Gainesville’s two stations.
McGee tells STATter 911 the supervisors reacted to an audit they ordered in September and the chief’s own recommendation. The chief said he had great concern for the safety of volunteer and career firefighters along with the safety of the public if current conditions were allowed to continue. The chief said in a telephone interview he “lacked confidence in the volunteer leadership”.
One issue cited by Chief McGee is that the family of Volunteer Chief Richard Bird lived at one of the fire stations. Some, but not all of Chief Bird’s family are members of the department. One of his children is described as a teenaged girl who is autistic. Another daughter is a volunteer sergeant.
Career personnel are assigned to the stations around the clock. In the takeover McGee plans to add career staffing. He also plans to increase volunteer participation under Prince William County. McGee says that it will be the first time volunteers will be part of the county and not individual fire companies.
The audit was ordered after two volunteers complained they were suspended 30-minutes before an election in August so they would be unable to run for office. One of the men was running for treasurer a position held by Wanda Bird, Chief Bird’s wife.
Below is the email sent to career and volunteer staff in Prince William County from Chief McGee:
Today the audit of the Gainesville District Volunteer Fire Department (GDVFD) was presented to the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) in closed session. This was followed by an open meeting with citizen’s time allowing volunteers to give input. As a result, the BOCS has dissolved the GDVFD and has directed me to provide 24 hour fire and rescue service at Stations 4 and 24. Effectively immediately, Chief Bowman has initiated a staffing plan to assure continuous service. I will be meeting with the GDVFD membership to discuss the process that will allow them to return to an operational status.
The resolution has directed that DFR Staff, the County Executive, County Attorney and the Fire and Rescue Association review Chapter 9 and its provisions for the fire and rescue system. This process will include a monthly report to the BOCS and a full report and recommendations due on May 1, 2009.
This will be a challenging time for the fire and rescue system and I recognize that we have a large number of dedicated volunteers who contribute greatly to service delivery. I look forward to working with everyone in the system as we move forward to meet this challenge.
Chief Kevin McGee
Prince William County Department of Fire & Rescue