By Aila Boyd

BIRCHbark Strategic Consulting, an Albemarle County-based company retained by Botetourt County to perform a fire station feasibility and facilities study, presented the Board of Supervisors with its findings last Tuesday.

Nelsie Birch, project lead, Gregory Grayson, community engagement lead, and Paul Brooks, lead author, from BIRCHbark gave the presentation and fielded questions from the supervisors.

The biggest news to come out of the months long study is that a new one engine company and emergency medical services unit is recommended to better serve the Gateway Crossing, Daleville Town Center, and the Greenfield industrial park areas along the Route 220 corridor.

The study was completed in four different phases. Phase One consisted of the gathering of data. Phase Two required an analysis of current conditions and a jurisdictional assessment. Phase Three included a public input/peer review process. Phase Four included the analysis of the service area model and the presenting of recommendations for future planning.

Although the majority of the study relied on quantitative data, Grayson noted, qualitative data was gathered through the deployment of a public survey and focus group sessions.

The public survey that was available for one month consisted of nine questions which were reviewed by an organizational psychologist. Out of the 148 responses, which represented the majority of the geographic areas of the county, approximately 50 percent of the respondents reported using county fire and rescue services over the past five years. Brooks noted that the number of respondents was fairly high, adding that “people who thought it was important enough to participate in the survey may have felt that way because they have an affinity for the organizations” as a potential reason for why so many people participated in the survey. Sixty-one of the respondents reported that they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the level of fire and rescue services in the county.

A focus group session focused on the fire and rescue service delivery system in the county was held in February in which over 50 participated.

Participants of the session noted that service strengths include the personnel, level of service provided, collaboration with county fire staff, development of a strategic plan before a crisis, quality of equipment, and assistance provided between fire departments in the county.

Weaknesses discussed during the session included the need to educate residents about the level of services that they receive, recognition that services are provided in urban, suburban, rural and wilderness areas within the county, varying levels of density as well as risk and hazard within the county, and emergency communications coverage (including both emergency radios and cellular service for 9-1-1 access).

When compiling the station location portion of the study, BIRCHbark looked specifically at the current and future service demand, response times, basis for distribution of resources, a standard fire station service area matrix, and the challenges to efficient station deployment.

The demand for service part of the study was broken down by category. The study estimates that by 2023, there will be over 5,000 yearly calls for service.

In 2012, 72 percent of the demand for service was medical-related, 13 percent was for rescue, and 8 percent was for fire.

In 2017, 78 percent of the demand for service was medical-related, 10 percent was for rescue, and 7 percent was for fire.

The fire station service area matrix covered the whole county and was used to capture geosocial areas in order to look at underlying factors that impact service.

The rural and remote nature of the majority of the county and growth following infrastructure in a linear fashion were listed in the study as challenges to efficient station deployment.

Another recommendation from the study is that a future evaluation should be considered for the deployment of an additional ladder company due to growth in the Daleville and Greenfield areas.

Additionally, the study asserts that a relocation of the Read Mountain Fire and Rescue Station be considered if the opportunity should arise. The recommendation falls in line with another recommendation which notes that the county should “focus services in the areas of greatest development and population density in the southern part of the county.” The facilities that currently serve the rural and remote areas of the county are noted as being “adequately located for the existing service demand.”

Brooks noted that normally increased demand for service is directly linked to areas where there are higher concentrations of people.

You all have done a good job from what I can see,” Billy Martin, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said following the presentation.