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BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Volunteer firefighters and EMTs in Spotsylvania County could be stuck behind desks if they don't complete hundreds of hours of training requirements by 2014.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to extend by a year--from Jan. 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2014--the deadline for minimum training standards for volunteer first-responders.
Paid staff are required to take the courses as well, but their training takes place as part of their hiring process.
Fire Chief Chris Eudailey said those who do not complete the courses--which are offered online and in person--by 2014 would have limited roles. They could serve in an administrative capacity, he said.
Supervisor Benjamin Pitts, who was on the board when it initially approved the training requirements in 2011 following a fatal fire the previous year, said he was concerned the county was pushing back the deadline. "If you kick the can long enough, it winds up in a ditch somewhere," he said.
Supervisor Paul Trampe said Pitts had a valid point.
"I am willing to kick the can down the road this time, but I'm not going to be willing to do that an unlimited number of times," he said.
Supervisor David Ross said it would be great if the county could provide training for volunteers during their shifts.
Board members also voted to establish a Jan. 1, 2015, deadline for fire and rescue command officers to complete training.
The county has struggled to get volunteers to show up to the classes. Eudailey said some have been good about attending, but he thinks others are waiting to see if the county will enforce the requirements.
The county's three volunteer agencies have around 250 members. It's unclear how many of them have completed the training requirements.
Some volunteers thought the original 2013 deadline was too strict. Others speculated that it was an attempt to get rid of them.
Mark Kuechler, an assistant chief with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, said he'd have to complete around 400 hours of coursework to satisfy the minimum requirements for command officers.
He is a self-employed subcontractor and says he doesn't have time to do that.
"I ran a $650 million corporation," said Kuechler, 62, who is on the Fire, Rescue and EMS Commission. "I think I have enough leadership skills to be able to match that against some of the book training."
He also has 45 years of experience as a first-responder and thinks the county should waive training for someone like him.
"To me, it seems a little shortsighted," he said.
Spotsylvania started a nine-month training academy this October for volunteer firefighters, who are required to complete 284 hours of training, based on the new standards. The county covers the cost of training Spotsylvania volunteers.
Other localities in the Fredericksburg area also have strict training rules.
Fredericksburg requires its volunteer firefighters to complete more than 300 hours of training in two years, said Deputy Fire Chief Michael Jones.
"It's a large commitment, there's no question about that," he said.
Stafford County accepts volunteer firefighters who have taken a 144-hour firefighter course, said Mark Doyle, a spokesman for Stafford's Fire and Rescue Department.
But people with no training who apply to be volunteer firefighters have to enroll in an eight-month academy that amounts to 240 hours of training, he said. The county instituted that rule about a year ago, but grand-fathered in its existing volunteer firefighters.
Brook Pittinger, director of administration for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said most volunteer agencies require training, but the amount varies. Virginia does not mandate training for firefighters, but it does for EMTs.
Kuechler said he might volunteer in Caroline County if Spotsylvania enforces the 2015 training deadline for officers like him. Or he might call it quits.
"I'll be 65 years of age, and I guess I might just get a rocking chair and sit on the front porch," he said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402