Area fire response times to change in Washington County, Virginia

ABINGDON, VA. (WJHL) — Effective July 1, the Abingdon Fire Department will no longer respond to non-fire-related calls immediately outside of the town limits. The county’s emergency management coordinator said this change will affect 9,864 people.

As a response to an annual funding request sent to the county, Abingdon Town Manager Mike Cochran sent a detailed study in December to the county administrator and two elected county supervisors who represent Abingdon. That study included a request to the county to provide more financial support for the upkeep of the town fire department.

According to town records, the Abingdon Fire Department averaged 57% of county recorded hours last year responding to calls outside the town limits. Cochran said the town cannot continue to afford that level of response.

Cochran said the department not only lost a fellow firefighter last year with the death of Cameron Craig but also a fire truck. The fire department is purchasing a replacement.

The town has calculated that within the last 10 years, Washington County has covered 19% of costs for the fire department.

“As everything gets more and more expensive, our tax rate is good,” said Cochran. “We don’t want to raise taxes, but we certainly want to be able to get paid for the services we provide…So now, we’re taking our town taxes and providing fire services to the county for nothing, or 20 cents on the dollar.”

Scott Co. investigators find drugs while arresting wanted man, sheriff says

The town has asked Washington County to contribute 57% of the costs for the coming fiscal year, totaling more than $540,000. The county offered the town an additional $33,750, totaling the county’s offer to $111,750.

“With the budget proposal that was brought up Tuesday night, [the Town of Abingdon] would have gotten more money than usual,” said the county’s coordinator of emergency management, Theresa Kingsley-Varble. “It still wasn’t the amount that they requested, so they chose to stick with their original request.”

Cochran said he has suggested the county implement a levy to pay the town.

Kingsley-Varble has created a fire response plan to cover the affected areas by this change.

The county fire department response map was approved Tuesday, March 26. (Photo: WJHL).
The county fire department response map was approved Tuesday, March 26. (Photo: WJHL).

Kingsley-Varble said nearby fire departments are extending their coverage area to help. These changes will happen in phases, with the first effective April 1.

“This phased approach will prevent a lapse in coverage, providing a continuity of service for the affected areas,” said Kingsley-Varble in a news release Tuesday.

She added that some areas will have affected response times.

Man sentenced in connection to 2023 death of Greene County teen Danielle Owens

A firefighter substation will be located near the county’s sheriff’s office, in a building already owned by the county. Kingsley-Varble said this will help with response times.

“The protection of life and property is our primary concern,” Kingsley-Varble stated in the release. “I appreciate the surrounding departments for working with us to provide this coverage.”

“We’re just trying to be able to provide the best possible services for town residents and for the service district because there’s nothing more devastating than coming home and having everything you owned burned to the ground,” said Cochran.

Any decisions regarding additional payment will be discussed between the Town of Abingdon and the county. Kingsley-Varble said the town will still receive money from the county in the budget, but she’s not sure how much that will be.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to WJHL | Tri-Cities News & Weather.