NEWS- Why the smiles? Fire departments to stay separate

Albemarle Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston (left) and Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner will both keep their jobs after a joint city/county study determined that it's not advisable to consolidate fire and rescue services.

The main reason? Because Charlottesville firefighter retirement benefits and vacation are so much higher than Albemarle's, it would cost a small fortune– $688,000 a year– for Albemarle firefighter pay to match Charlottesville's, according to Matrix Consulting of Irving, Texas. 

One of the few opportunities to reduce staff if the two departments did consolidate, according to the $80,000 study, would be axing one of the two chief positions. No smiles there.

Matrix recommended that the city and county work together on training and hazardous response teams, and that the closest unit respond to fires and EMS calls– regardless of jurisdiction.

Both Eggleston and Werner say they support the recommendations in the report– and that it provided no surprises.

The study "will serve as a gauge for us to manage from in the future," says Werner, who adds that some of the recommendations, like closest unit response, have already been implemented.

The report suggests that the Charlottesville Fire Department should have its own ambulance and rescue staffing, and Werner notes the city is already pursuing that strategy, having controversially approved nearly $1 million in the budget for that purpose before the study results were out.

At the time that $1 million was announced, officials at the all-volunteer Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS) said they were stunned that their venerable organization had been left out of the decision. "Most of the work developing recommendations was done without our input," says CARS chief Dayton Haugh.

Furthermore, Haugh alleges, Matrix utilized faulty response times in the report.  "A lot of data," he says, "particularly our times, were pretty bad."

The city and county vow to continue working together, and an oversight committee that will include CARS leaders has been formed to look into regional emergency response.