Many of us were left confused and baffled by the recent events with the Gainesville Fire Department several weeks ago. Most of us, unfamiliar with the hierarchy involved with the Prince William County hybrid system of firefighter, were left scratching our respective heads over how a chief could move his family into the firehouse, set up his own fiefdom, use county funds to support the fiefdom, and basically have no accountability to the taxpayers via the county employees or BOCS.
Similarly, some of us wondered how the BOCS could not have known about the apparent violations of power and authority going on at Gainesville Fire Department. How accountable are they for this mess? How come the Gainesville Supervisor knew nothing about these rather unconventional practices, or did he?
BOCS Chairman, Corey Stewart has called for audits of all the volunteer fire departments in the county, similar to the one that Gainesville just had. This ought to stir up a good dose of territorialism with all the firehouses.
According to the News and Messenger,
The audit found that the department had ineffective governance and oversight, failed to adhere to company bylaws, failed to manage company operations, lacked proper training certificates and lacked the ability to provide adequate fire and rescue service.
Stewart said that there is no chance that Prince William County will abandon its system of using volunteers as well as paid career firefighters.
“To replace the volunteers, we don’t want to do that. They save us about $30 million a year,” he said. “We’re always going to have a mixed system of volunteers and career.”
Still, Stewart said he wanted to know that conditions similar to those at the Gainesville department don’t exist at the county’s other 11 volunteer fire companies.
It sounds like Corey Stewart just might be on the right track here. While the volunteer fire departments are privately owned, the lion’s share of their income comes from the public coffers. They operate fairly independently from the rest of the county. If they operate on public funds, there needs to be public oversight.
The News and Messenger gives a fair amount of county history as it relates to the fire companies. It is an informative read.