Both the News Messenger and the Washington Post carry articles about the problems at the Gainesville Fire Department located off of John Marshall Highway. The most recent scandal involves the results of an internal audit ordered by the County Board of Supervisors last September. The audit uncovered – staff that were not medically qualified to serve, volunteers that did not have the proper certifications and a woefully inadequate accounting mechanism.

These findings came to light because two volunteer firefighters attempting to run for a governing position at the station were suspended immediately prior to the election presumably without cause. One of those running was attempting to gain a position as Treasurer a position held by the wife of the Chief of the Station. More disturbing the public has learned that the Gainesville District Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Bird, his wife – Wanda and 3 children have been living at the station for years.

The overbearing question is why did the County Board of Supervisors not maintain fiduciary oversight over the Fire Department? Why did it take two volunteers to bring this situation to the forefront?

The audit can be found here –[1].pdf

64 Thoughts to “Gainesville Fire Department Dissolved”

  1. A PW County Resident

    I would suggest people reread the report again. The county is supposed to have procedures in place to review reimbursements. They do not have in place thus it appeared to the auditors that there was no accountability.

    I am still intrigue that many people that these are rogue operations with no oversight. If the auditors were doing a financial audit with internal controls, then they expanded it into something they shouldn’t have if that is the limit of their scope. But they went into whether the GVFD followed its own bylaws and met certification requirements, none of which is financial. So either they exceeded the scope of the audit or the County does have oversight. Especially if they can close the operation instead of saying that GVFD gets no levy money until it cleans up the financial mess. So I don’t give county staff a pass because the county Fire and Rescue has the reponsibility to assure that county people are protected whether it through volunteers or paid. They do it through county standards and review of the operations to assure compliance.

    Finally, one part of the audit disturbed me. It was the statement that GVFD was uncooperative (which I probably can believe) —they used the fact that lawyers were present during the meetings and interviews. Excuse me, but I thought this was still part of the US, is it not? They did not need to add that superflous comment.

    Finally, Lucky Duck, I did not fully respond to your analogy of the pilot and the plumber. As a pilot, I will tell you unequivocally that if the plumber was trained, licensed and has remained current in FAA certification for the type aircraft, all of which are very stringent, I would have full confidence with his piloting the aircraft in which I was a passenger. I would also feel confident that I do not need to ask a firefighter, when he/she is getting me out of a burning building or dealing with a possible heart attack for his pay stub.

  2. Lucky Duck

    Maybe not his/her pay stub, but it if was a County employee you would not have to see his/her certification from the State to know they were in compliance and trained, unlike the GVFD volunteers.

  3. A PW County Resident

    Why do you believe that of county employees? Every organization makes mistakes but is it because the county does oversight?

  4. Chris

    I don’t think there’s bashing of all volunteers here at all. I have no problem with a volunteer working on my so long as they are physically fit and certified to the job they were dispatched to do.

    My family depended a great deal on the SJVFD with a very sick family member. We all so had Yorkshire, Buckhall, and Lake Jackson serve us. They were all great. I never once questioned them verbally or in my mind were they proffessionals or volunteers, or their certifications. I had confidence in all of these fine men and women willing to serve their communty. I also had confidence that such things as certifications, etc. were current.

    My family and I are all very grateful and thankful for the service we were provided by all the above mentioned departments.

    The bottom line is there are “bad apples” in every bunch, and the fire department is no exception. I don’t believe the what’s gone at GDVFD is going on to such an extreme at all stations. However, this report is an eye-opener.

  5. Wendy

    County staff – Mr. Gerhart’s folks have very little ability to control, oversee what the volunteers do. They dictate and are supported by BOS members. They are considered a major voting block and are courted by all that run for office.

    There are plenty of processes in place for every other county and contribution agency. So the question is how did the VFD’s get away without complying??? Hmmm…. who do they know?

  6. Moon-howler

    I would suspect that it would be the good ole boy network stopping right with the BOCS.

    That is how things used to work back in the dark ages and how they always work in jurisdictions that aren’t quite as heirarchical as PWC.

    People just go talk to their supervisor if they don’t have to deal with county people.

  7. Juturna

    Yes MH looks like end of days for good ole boys. Too bad they are taking good folks with them.

  8. Lucky Duck

    PW Resident,

    I believe that because every County FIre and Rescue employee’s certifications, training records and future training needs as well as all State Certifications are kept by the Staff at the Training Academy in Nokesville. That portion of the Academy is required to be audited by the State of Virginia – I believe its every three years – to make sure the rules are being followed. Each individual is notified when certain training/certification is due as is that person’s chain of command, as well as the Academy Staff to make sure there are checks and balances that exist so such things that took place at GVFD does not happen in the paid service.

  9. A PW County Resident

    Well, LD, we are just going to have to disagree since I know that the volunteers train at the same academy. I am just not willing to broadbrush all volunteer organizations based purely on conjecture and just because of Gainesville.

    So until I am given some proof that volunteer organizations, regardless of supposed political pull, do not maintain records, I cannot agree. Did anyone suppose that the BOCS allows them to operate because they do a good job?

    My last word since I can’t broadbrush anyone like that and so I will not agree.

  10. Juturna

    Chapter 9 of the County Code pretty much ties the hands of career department and frees up the Volunteers like birds – sorry about the pun. Read the audit.

    Again, Volunteers have the minimal amount of training required – low bid. Think about that when your child needs help.

    My personal experience with volunteer rescue is that the customer service is unbeatable. Volunteers are dwindling – we can keep a hybrid, it’s ALL about the control -career or volunteer? I’ll take my chances with career control.

    It’s time for PWC to stop allowing people to ‘inherit’ jobs – particularly at the top.

  11. anon

    Most of the PWC volunteer firefighters I know are paid firefighters in other surrounding jurisdictions – Fairfax, Alexandria, Manassas, Ft Belvoir, Airport Authority, etc. These guys live in PWC and are volunteers here IN ADDITION to being paid elsewhere.

    I’d be curious to know exactly what training paid PWC personnel receive that is apparently so many levels beyond what the volunteers do. Do paid PWC people receive more training? Lucky Duck and other say so, but I don’t know. Exactly what is this extra training and where/when do they receive it?

    Also, do paid PWC engine companies still consider just 3 people on a wagon to be “fully staffed”. Perhaps that has been upgraded – anyone know?

  12. Old Hand

    PW County Resident:
    “And I also take some issue with the statement about training. A relative of mine is a volunteer firefighter who got his Firefighter I and II certification from the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md, just to volunteer with the local fire department–not a job but an avocation.”

    Sorry, but the National Fire Academy does not offer certification courses for Firefighter I and II at the Emmittsburg, Md campus.

    Another point raised was about volunteers training at the same academy as the paid folks. While training at the same facilities, they are usually trained by a cadre consisting mainly of volunteer instructors, though some paid personnel instruct after hours. The difference between the paid “Recruit School” instruction, which is lengthy and extremely challenging, is in repetition, intensity, feedback and evaluation as well as additional certifications not required by the state to operate as a “firefighter”.

    All courses must meet at least the minimum standards set by the state. Such standards include the number of didactic and practical hours spent on each topic, the minimum passing scores for written and practical exams, etc. State standards are set, unfortunately, to the lowest common denominator so that individuals may acquire the skills even though they may lack some of the basics in education. There have been issues with people unable to pass written tests, or physically unable to perform skill evolutions, yet still feeling they should be certified. For example, driver/operators need basic math skills in order to correctly determine pumping pressures, flow rates and available water flows. Relying on a chart or on-board computer to do the calculations is problematic given the environmental conditions facing them. Or are we still doing the “pump it till it’s hard and add 50 psi” formula? The state Office of EMS used to allow dyslexic students to take an oral exam – yet an EMT needs to be able to read and understand medical histories and medications.

    As dedicated and as determined as GDVFD’s hearing impaired technicians are, I’m sorry, but automated BP machines don’t always work, lung sounds have to be evaluated, instructions from medical control have to be repeated, etc. It’s the Job Requirements that should be setting the minimum standards, not the desire of the individual to perform a role.

    Also, I’m curious as to how anyone could be expected to oversee an organization that refuses to accept the oversight authority. I believe you will find each department very reluctant to give ANY “outsider” access to their training records, let alone their financials.

    Finally, if the volunteer trainees are training “alongside” the paid recruits at the Academy, they should be required to meet the same standards in physical fitness, agility and health status. Did you know, for example, that paid firefighters hired in the last 25 years or so, are not allowed to smoke – on – or off – duty?

  13. BOB

    #1 if the citz. of pwc would like to Pay for 24/7 staffing lets do the math lets pick a station co.6 they have An engine (3), a tanker (1), a brush (1), a rescue (3), a hazmat (2), a ambulance/bls (2), a medic/als (2). lets see thats 14 people ant min. staffing, the county normaly runs with 4 on an engine 4 on a rescue, 2 on a tanker, 2 on a brush, 2 on the hazmat, 3 on an ambulance, 3 on a medic, thats 20 people. lets say they get 60,000 a year thats 840,000 for 14 people, 1,200,000 for 20 people, oh and medics get paid more and 60,000 is not that much for firefighting and you would have to hire a nother 14 or 20 people so that they could have atleast a day or two off. so now we are looking at 1,680,000 to 2,400,000 a year for one station just for staffing. Now do we even want to talk about the money the county would have to pay for the units, station and maintance. It would take the county 10,000,000 to run this station for one year. they county has 22 stations thats about 220,000,000 a year GOOD LUCK.

    #2 This is about gdvfd, as with anything it comes down to one person the chief of gdvfd. he could have done his job.

    #3 vol. set the standards for Both vol. and paid for ex. great you now have a firefighter cert. great. But your still not a “staffing personal” you must go threw a lead firefighter training, the same goes with emt’s, Just because you have a cert. does not mean anything, just you took a class.

    #4 ALL instructors are paid most are vol. somewere in the state. to be a state instructors you must be a member of a vol. department in the state.So lets see it all comes back to vol.

    #5 if you don’t know all the facts ask don’t look dumb because you dont know

  14. Dont Hate

    There appear to be a ton of inconsistencies that have run amuck in this blog. Please allow me to set this straight as a 15 year volunteer and career firefighter.

    This county is run by one Fire Chief who presides over the Fire & Rescue Association (FRA). The FRA determines policy and budget for each individual fire department. Additionally, the county finance department is also involved with reimbursements, planning, etc for future purchases. Virtually everything has to be lined itemed and approved by the FRA. Much like many businesses, certain line items can be moved or reallocated if the situation warrants it. In the case of the GVFD, certain expendatures were done so carelessly. This does not, however, warrant discussion over the type of service you are being provided.

    Lets set some terminology straight. Volunteers and career alike like to call themselves professional, for many reasons. Regardless of what we think of each other, its the service to the community that really matters.

    All firefighters have to go through the same curiculum in the State of VA. If you are career, your academy will certainly be different than a volunteer, but the goals are the same. Many career staff train the volunteers, but each instructor is brought on by the resident career training chief. Therefore, the quality should be the same, although, some have argued differently. I certainly can show you some quality firefighters in DC, Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, then I could show you some true zeros in those same jurisdictions. Please call 703-792-6380 if you want more information.

    This is one bad apple that has been caught after some proactive work by Chief McGee. Many volunteers will applaud his work and dedication, although, somehow many of you have bottled the volunteer system as a corrupt, uneducated club. Truth be known, that in most volunteer departments, this is the farthest from the truth. I would also say that I challenge you to find out what your local volunteer department has to offer, what they do, etc.

    Lets talk about the report that is public. Those that have decided to bash, etc the volunteers for lack of checks and balances, please re-read the report. You will find a lack of management from the BOCS to the County Attorney, to the Fire Chief (McGee), to the FRA, to the department. How can the County Finance department refund two of the same receipts? Lack of understanding, or perhaps the old adage of “we always have done that”.

    This is a great thing that happened to PWC. It shows that things do go wrong when there is a lack of managment or control over specific programs. It shows that when we dont follow written policy, that things go wrong. It shows that we are human, and that sometimes when we dont have those protective barriers in place, people will do what they feel is best, even though it is truly wrong.

    Lastly, its really comfortable to sit behind this computer, as a taxpayer, and point out the things that dont seem right, and voice your opinion publicly. I too am a taxpayer that has decided to support my County through volunteering my time. You want to be part of a real solution? Go to and sign up for a ride-a-long or call your local department. Let the local doctors, lawyers, military, business owners, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters (large voting base) know what you really think.

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