The 103-year-old, all volunteer Crozet fire department is groaning in dismay over an April decision by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to forbid the county’s professional firemen from volunteering at a local fire station during their off-work hours.
Citing the Federal Labor Relations Act, a law designed to prevent employees from being pressured or intimidated into “volunteering” extra unpaid hours on their jobs, and relying on advice from County Attorney Larry Davis, the supervisors will not allow their career fire service employees to serve even at all-volunteer stations like Crozet’s, where no one is paid, according to CVFD chief Preston Gentry.
“It comes down how you interpret the law,” said Gentry, “because neighboring counties do allow it. You just can’t volunteer at the station you normally work at.
“They are doing it so the volunteer stations can’t get supplemented,” he said.
County maps show that it delineates 10 first-response fire districts, geographic territories, served by 10 stations within them. The ruling is apparently based on an interpretation that Albemarle County is only one district. Neighboring counties that do allow career firefighters to volunteer in other districts are interpreting their first-response districts as actually distinct and their stations as separately administered.
“Cohesion between [the professional and volunteer] fire departments and continuity in relations between the departments would be improved if [the paid firefighters] would be allowed to serve as volunteers,” said Gentry. “Their training would help the volunteers.
“We’ve lost 23 percent of our volunteers to the career service. We don’t want to tick-off the county, but we have no paid people here, so how could it hurt?”
“And who is the county to tell an employee how to spend his free time?” added CVFD president Rodney Rich.
The Supervisors went into executive session to discuss the policy, citing the Freedom of Information Act allowance for legal matters—though that exemption is usually considered pertinent only for discussing active lawsuits that the county is involved in, not matters of general policy—and announced a decision afterward, Gentry said.
CVFD leaders are trying to think of a way to get the supervisors to vote in public on their decision, he said.
Crozet, North Garden and Scottsville have the only remaining all-volunteer fire departments. They cover about half the county’s 740 square miles.