Va. fire agency to review Manassas department

By Jennifer Buske
Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Virginia fire agency will conduct an assessment of all fire and rescue services in Manassas as volunteer and career personnel continue to have different viewpoints on purchasing equipment and procedures associated with the city's fire and rescue system.

"You have three different entities . . . and when we sit down and discuss where we want to go with our system, there are different opinions," Manassas Volunteer Fire Company President Matthew Lausch said. "Everyone has their own ideas, so we really wanted to bring in an independent party that could do a detailed analysis of the system."

The assessment will be conducted by the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. It will look at the organizational structure, budget, personnel training, fleet plan and operations of the fire and rescue system in Manassas, which consists of the Manassas Fire and Rescue Department, the volunteer fire company and the Greater Manassas Volunteer Rescue Squad.

The Manassas Fire and Rescue Committee, which consists of two members of each organization and City Council member Marc T. Aveni (R), suggested the study, which is free, to City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes, who gave the final approval, fire officials said.

"This is an outside look, and they will give us an honest assessment," said Michael Enright, president of the volunteer rescue squad. Manassas Fire Chief Michael Wood "is doing an excellent job, but he has his thoughts, the volunteer fire company has their way of doing things, and we have ours. When we go out to a call . . . everyone acts in a professional manner. It's the administrative politics that our occurring."

The study, which began last weekend with a town hall meeting for residents, will conclude around March, when a final report will be provided to city and fire and rescue officials, said Matthew Smith, Virginia Department of Fire Programs police and communications analyst.

Smith said a specific study team will conduct site visits to interview Manassas officials and people with all three fire and rescue organizations. Because the study is ongoing, Smith said, he can't comment on it. He said that over the past 10 years, they have conducted 25 fire and EMS studies in Virginia.

"Since we are a pretty new system, this study will be beneficial," Manassas fire Capt. Michael Rohs said. "There are three entities in Manassas, but everyone is trying to get on the same page."

For decades, Manassas was served by two volunteer fire and rescue organizations. That changed in 2008, when city officials decided to upend tradition, create a fire department and hire Wood.

For more than two years, volunteer and career staff members disagreed on the vision and organizational structure for the newly created Manassas fire and rescue system. City officials finally intervened and in January passed an ordinance that said the fire and rescue system would operate under one citywide chief but that the two volunteer organizations would still have some control over policy and procedures.

The fire and rescue committee was created under the ordinance and given the authority to vote on all polices, procedures and equipment purchases. Wood, or committee members who disagree with a decision, can appeal to a five-member group, which consists of the city manager and four residents who have fire and rescue experience.

City officials and those with fire and rescue said that they have made progress since the ordinance passed but that opinions continue to differ. They said they hope the assessment will shed light on the issues.

"Obviously, when you bring three groups to the table and say, 'You are going to work together,' there will be some tension," Aveni said. "But we have been meeting monthly . . . and I think we are moving in the right direction and doing what's best for the city."

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