After more than a year of debate, Prince William supervisors are shaking up the leadership structure for the county’s first responders. The county has long depended on a complex system to manage both its career and volunteer fire-rescue workers. But the convoluted structure prompted friction between leaders and adversely impacted response times, according to a controversial audit report issued in March, and the Board of County Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday aimed at simplifying things.
The new law gives sole authority for the management of both volunteer staffers and career professionals to a single “system chief,” who will report directly to County Executive Christopher Martino. The ordinance also calls for the formation of a seven-member executive committee made up of both career and volunteer leaders to advise the new system chief on policy issues.
The county’s old system was considerably more complicated, and led to a “laissez faire” attitude among fire and rescue leaders, according to a consulting firm’s report delivered to the board earlier this year. The Prince William Fire and Rescue Association once oversaw every first responder in the county, and was run by a board of directors made up of both volunteer and career members. But the county also had a Department of Fire and Rescue to manage career employees specifically, and that department’s chief doubled as the chair of the FRA’s managing board.
This new ordinance eliminates the FRA entirely, empowering the system chief with full authority to make decisions about the entirety of the fire-rescue system.“These changes are long overdue, and people long recognized that this is where the system was going,” said Mary Beth Michos, who served as chief of the county’s fire-rescue department from 1994 through 2007. “We’ve had incremental changes over the years, but only because of some crisis and catastrophe in the service. The changes have been primarily reactionary, but this is proactive.”