Three top-ranking volunteer officers in Coles fire department resign

August 30, 2012

The three top-ranking volunteer officers at a Prince William County fire station resigned suddenly Tuesday night, notifying top officials but saying little about their reasons.

Fire Chief Adam Eldert and assistant chiefs Jimmy Pearce and Jeff Osborn volunteered for the Coles District Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department on Dumfries Road. Eldert sent an e-mail Tuesday night to fire personnel and county officials, saying that the three were resigning, effective that night.

He said Deputy Chief David Wood would take over his duties.

Pearce, who was in his 14th year as a volunteer and fourth year in Prince William, said in an interview that when the three took their leadership positions in January, they looked to tackle issues within the Coles department. He would not specify what issues led to his and the other chiefs’ resignations, but said that they had consistently butted heads with other factions over decisions big and small.

“There were strategic decisions, long term plans, that was part of it” that lead to dissension, he said. “It was a constant barrage of random things. At the end of the day, it boiled down to not being able to see eye to eye.”

Eldert, who did not return phone calls requesting comment, said in a statement e-mailed to county spokesman Jason Grant that he enjoyed his 11 years with the fire station.

“Recently, disagreements and irreconcilable differences within the CDVFD on how best to advance the organization made me realize that it was time for me to step down and take the opportunity to spend more quality time with my family,” he said in the statement.

Osborn could not be reached immediately on Wednesday.

County Fire chief Kevin McGee said he was surprised by the resignations and unaware of issues within the fire company, as well as what might have led to the resignations.

“They have a good long history in the fire and rescue system and I have a great deal of respect for each one of them and a great deal of confidence,” McGee said of the three former volunteer officers. “I’m disappointed they’re leaving the system. They contributed a lot and I enjoyed working with them.”

McGee said he has appointed a fact-finding commission, led by volunteer Fire Chief Kevin Wilson of the Stonewall Jackson Volunteer Fire Department, to explore issues within the department and make recommendations on how to improve and maintain good service. The committee will report to the county’s Fire and Rescue Association, an umbrella group made up of both career and volunteer fire chiefs.

The Coles station is staffed by both career and volunteer firefighters, with volunteers working primarily at nights and on weekends. With the loss of the three commanders, the number of volunteers at the station drops from 21 to 18, McGee said. That’s two fewer than the threshold of 20 to officially incorporate a volunteer fire company.

But McGee said that, nonetheless, volunteers will continue to staff the station and resources can be shifted from neighboring units to take up the slack.

McGee said that residents can be assured that the station will be staffed 24/7, although perhaps not at full capacity. McGee said he doesn’t think that service will be affected. “But it’s certainly prudent on our part to evaluate that as part of our fact finding,” he said. Other officials said they do not expect a drop off in fire or rescue service for the area.

The Coles station covers a large swath of rural Prince William and often responds to larger emergencies countywide.

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