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Gainesville Fire & Rescue Disbanded

By Greg L | 17 January 2009 | Prince William County | 11 Comments

An audit of the Gainesville District Volunteer Fire and Rescue uncovered a pretty shocking finding among a trove of issues according to reports on WMAL this afternoon: that Chief Richard Bird had moved his family into the firehouse several years ago and was essentially living rent-free in a county facility.  Needless to say, the Board of County Supervisors was mighty displeased with this, and the District has been taken over by the county’s professional firefighters and will be reorganized.  A good move, even if it’s overdue.

The Gainesville Times describes an organization in complete disarray that can’t explain how they’ve spent their money, why they’ve taken various personnel actions, or what standards they maintain.  It’s a hugely disturbing picture that even County Executive Craig Gerhart could recognize.

Gerhart said after the meeting that the auditor had asked simple questions and requested standard documents. That the leadership was unwilling or unable to provide them was the first strike, he said, adding that “the financial operation was a mess.”

On top of that, he continued, the station has some long-standing issues with safety and that its own safety policies and procedures were “held in total disregard.”

Then there’s the “breakdown in communications” between McGee and the station and McGee’s assertion that he has “lost confidence in the leadership” in Gainesville.

“You put all of these things together and the conclusion I think, is it’s not working,” Gerhart said.

I’m hopeful that other volunteer fire districts are doing a vastly better job and will remain as volunteer stations, albeit with some changes.  When run well, they provide tremendous service while operating at lower cost than professionally-staffed stations.  We need both fill-time and volunteer fire and rescue stations, and we need them to both operate well and efficiently.  The lessons learned from this disaster may help integrate the leadership of the professional and volunteer organizations, strengthen oversight, and ensure we have strong and dependable firefighting organizations well into the future.

In order to make that happen, we have to figure out what brought this mess on, and ensure it is never repeated.

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  1. GTH said on 17 Jan 2009 at 8:26 am:
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    I’m glad the BOS has done what they needed to do. Look at DC to see what happens when people look out for themselves at the expense of the greater good. They may have had the best intentions and truly believed they were doing no wrong, but such flimsy rationalizations lead to corruption.

  2. William Schmidt said on 17 Jan 2009 at 10:29 am:
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    There must be more to the story. The need for having qualified personnel at the station 24/7 certainly would justify some members living at the station. I have no idea just what accounting procedures the PW county requires to justify the continuing support of the Volunteer station via a county tax levy. I would expect that every station must provide an accounting of just how tax funds are spent. How different are the forms from the Gainsville Department from those of other volunteer stations in the County.

  3. freedom said on 17 Jan 2009 at 4:29 pm:
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    William Schmidt said, “The need for having qualified personnel at the station 24/7 certainly would justify some members living at the station.”

    No it doesn’t!

  4. FormerCOMemployee said on 17 Jan 2009 at 5:05 pm:
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    There are many volunteer firehouses that live-ins. It is not unusual. However, I do not believe I have ever heard of having a family member living there also. Usually it is single firefighters.

  5. freedom said on 17 Jan 2009 at 5:08 pm:
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    …at least, William, not without common understanding and approval to meet recognized need….and that’s NOT how this occurred.

  6. Former Officer said on 17 Jan 2009 at 9:23 pm:
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    Chief Bird has been there a lot of years and has over stayed his welcome. He was good for the department years back but has turned the station into his own little kingdom. The county is doing the right thing.

  7. Johnson said on 18 Jan 2009 at 9:27 am:
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    I hate to see this sort of thing, especially from organizations that are meant to serve the public. Of course, firefighters have lived at work on and off, depending on the jurisdiction and it’s needs. Moving one’s family into a county facility is pretty outrageous.

  8. FormerCOMemployee said on 18 Jan 2009 at 9:35 am:
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    Usually Volunteer houses do not belong to the jurisdiction. They are usually owned and operated by the Volunteer company. Do not know about this situation though. All though, it is still pretty outrageous to move your family into the house.

  9. Benton said on 19 Jan 2009 at 11:08 am:
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    I think his tenure is most of the problem. According to the PWC website Fire houses are paid for by fire levies - so I would say they belong to the jurisdiction.

    I think that was a cheap shot at Gerhart - but any opportunity, eh? This is totally the responsibility of the BOS. They keep volunteer activity close to their vests and their elections.

  10. FOIA said on 19 Jan 2009 at 2:36 pm:
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    This guy and his screw ball family turned the firehouse into their home! This is outrageous, there must be someway to prosecute him and his screwball wife who tried to justify the whole thing. My question is: This apparently has been going on for 10 years why wasn’t he paying rent for his family, I think $1000/month is appropriate, so have him cut a check to the cash strapped county for $120,000 + 10 years of interest bringing the tab to $250,000.

  11. Benton said on 19 Jan 2009 at 3:04 pm:
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    No one noticed for 10 years? Just too much for be to believe. Lots of someones turned a blind eye is more like it……

    Before we give him a bill, who paid for food? He’s never paid real estate taxes either!

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