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The Buena Vista Board of Trustees and some town employees met for a work session with the Buena Vista Fire Department (BVFD) career staff prior to their evening meeting on April 9. Fire Chief Dixon Villers expressed two areas of concern in that meeting regarding the current state of the department: equipment and staffing.

“We cover every aspect of emergencies,” Villers said. “We want to provide the best service possible.”

Currently, BVFD operates with three full-time staff members: Brandon Evans, Eric Smith and Villers. Evans and Smith handle operations in the field. Villers, as the fire chief, handles the administrative and departmental tasks.

The BVFD handles numerous types of calls including fire, traffic, medical and fast-water rescues.

“Some 80-90 percent of our calls are medical,” Smith told the trustees. “We are growing, our call volume is increasing.”

Most fire departments operate on what Smith called a “48-96” (48 hours on duty, and 96 hours off duty). This allows for adequate rest and a mental break for firefighters. But right now, Evans and Smith are handling every shift and splitting on-call duties. Evans and Smith both have only four days off per month.

“We have to show up,” Smith stated. “It’s our department and our town.”

Still, Villers says the work-burden grows heavier for the undermanned department. For reference, Mayor Duff Lacy pointed out that there were 20 volunteer firefighters in 2014. Now, there are five volunteer firefighters who supplement the full-time staff, a manpower decrease of 60 percent. All of the volunteers have their own day-jobs and families to take care of.

Villers, Smith and Evans also highlighted serious equipment issues the BVFD is currently facing.

“All of our equipment is becoming obsolete,” Smith said. He pointed out that he would not trust his Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA); an essential piece of equipment for entering a burning structured.

Villers listed off inadequate firetrucks, SCBA’s, radios and thermal imaging equipment as current equipment areas with significant shortcomings.

“Our fleet is aging,” said Villers, pointing out the BVFD newest truck dates from 2001. The second truck is even older, a 1973 model. “Much of our equipment is considered obsolete by current regulations.”

More than a couple of the trustees expressed their concern over the state of the BVFD.

“I feel like they are super understaffed,” Trustee Mark Jenkins said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like we have neglected them.”

When asked what the department’s top priorities are, Villers found it difficult to answer.

“That’s a good question,” Villers said. “It’s this balancing act. Where do we start first?”

Currently, the Town of Buena Vista is pursuing the SAFER Grant, which will allow the BVFD to add three additional full-time staff members. The town is also pursuing other grants to finance the BVFD in their quest to re-equip the department.

“I want to ease the burden on the taxpayer,” Villers stated.

NOTE: Ark Valley Voice will be following up on this story with an in-depth article after an interview with Villers.