Fairfax County, Virginia, is served by a combination career and volunteer fire and rescue system. The 12 independent volunteer fire departments partner with the career personnel of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department to provide emergency services.
The system has more than 1,500 career firefighters, EMS providers, and support personnel, who staff the County’s 37 fire stations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are joined by more than 300 operational volunteers from the 12 volunteer departments. Volunteers receive the same training and provide the same emergency services as career personnel.
The combination career and volunteer fire and rescue system has evolved to meet the changing needs of Fairfax County. It is regarded as one of the nation’s premier emergency service organizations, consisting of the following components:
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FCFRD)
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FCFRD) is a combination career and volunteer department serving as the umbrella organization, providing fire suppression, emergency medical, technical rescue, fire prevention, water rescue, hazardous materials, arson investigation, and educational services in Fairfax County. Its mission is to “provide the highest quality services to protect the lives, property, and environment of our community.”
The FCFRD is part of the Public Safety organization reporting to a Deputy County Executive. It is organized into 3 operational shifts, 7 battalions, and provides operational staffing in all fire stations 24/7. The FCFRD organization also includes Fire Prevention, Public Affairs/Life Safety, Apparatus, Logistics, Health Programs, and more.
As part of the partnership with the volunteer companies, the FCFRD provides excellent training, common equipment such as hose and breathing apparatus, maintenance for vehicles, and a portion of the facilities needed to operate the volunteer departments. This partnership helps to provide the best service at the lowest cost to the citizens of the county.
The FCFRD is among the nation’s most respected fire and rescue departments, with a superb cadre of highly-skilled career firefighters. The 12 volunteer departments, comprising the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, operate in close partnership with career personnel, providing emergency services under the FCFRD banner. Volunteers in the 12 departments share a unique pride in being an integral part of this world-class fire and rescue system.
12 Volunteer Departments
At the heart of the volunteer fire and rescue system in Fairfax County are the 12 volunteer departments. Each volunteer department is an independent, legally-designated non-profit organization chartered in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with some having been established over 100 years ago. Every volunteer in the County belongs to one of these 12 departments.
The volunteer departments operate in close partnership with the FCFRD through a series of agreements. Operational volunteers are trained at the County’s fire and rescue academy, and operate side-by-side with the personnel of the FCFRD.
The volunteer departments also contribute materially to the fire and rescue system. Volunteer departments own and/or help operate 15 of the 37 fire stations in the County, each of which is staffed 24 hours a day by career personnel. They also purchase fire and rescue apparatus (fire engines, ambulances, etc.) and equipment; both for front line service (staffed 24 hours a day by career personnel) and for ready reserve service (staffed only by volunteers).
The following is the mission statement of the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments, as revised and adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Volunteer Fire Commission in November 1997: “Volunteer Fire & Rescue Departments in Fairfax County serve the citizens by providing operational and financial support to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and by providing direct service to the other organizations which support the needs of the community. In order to do this, we will:
- Provide personnel trained to state and national standards which:
- put suppression and emergency medical units in service during peak as well as normal activity periods;
- cover scheduled public events and special departmental needs;
- staff units as “minimum staffing” when requested to reduce county costs;
- supplement career operations officers in response positions in accordance with established departmental regulations;
- provide a corps of certified instructors to teach fire and emergency medical service (EMS) subjects at the County Fire Academy;
- and serve on technical advanced operational units and national and international resource teams.
- Provide appropriate facilities to house career and volunteer personnel.
- Provide state-of-the-art apparatus and equipment.
- Operate canteen services for major incidents, training events, and other departmental needs.
- Provide a strong program of fire safety education within our community through open house programs, as well as talks and demonstrations to local community and civic groups.
- Recruit from the community a cadre of individuals who are willing to contribute their time and talent.
- Participate in the long-range planning for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
Volunteer Fire Commission
The Fairfax County Volunteer Fire Commission is a long-standing advisory group whose members are elected by the volunteer fire organizations and affirmed by the Board of Supervisors to represent the 12 volunteer fire and rescue departments.
The primary mission is of the Volunteer Fire Commission is to “Assume responsibility for considering and dealing with all issues related to the Volunteer Organization. This includes responsibility for the development and contribution of a volunteer officer program integrated into the overall fire department officer structure, with responsibly for volunteer officers both in the volunteer stations and on the fire ground. In fulfilling this mission, the group will serve in an advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors on Volunteer matters and will report to the Board of Supervisors annually on its activities. The Commission will deal directly with the volunteers and will work with the Chief of the Fire and Rescue Department through the Volunteer Liaison on the staff of the department.”
Major concerns with which the Volunteer Fire Commission should deal include the following matters:
- Encourage the creation of an environment conducive to participation by volunteers in the Fire and Rescue Department
- Ensure that a productive program of recruitment, training, and support for volunteers is developed and implemented
- Conduct a community relations program designed to familiarize citizens with volunteer opportunities and to explain the significance of the Fire and Rescue Department’s dual system
- Apprise the Chief of the Fire and Rescue Department, through the Volunteer Liaison, of existing or potential problems related to volunteer participation and, to the extent feasible, seek solutions to such problems
- Deal with any issues, as required, which relate to the volunteer Organizations.
The Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association (FCVFRA) is a partnership of 12 volunteer fire and rescue departments in Fairfax County. As a legally-chartered nonprofit organization, the FCVFRA brings together volunteers from the 12 departments to coordinate their activities and the overall contributions of volunteers to the County’s fire and rescue system. This includes planning, operations, training, public relations, and administration.
The Association was established in 1929 and was expanded in 2001 when it merged with the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire Chiefs Association. Today, the FCVFRA boasts three standing committees (Operations, Training, and Recruitment and Retention) which coordinate these important aspects of volunteer system. It also manages other countywide initiatives and provides a single public face for the volunteer system.
The Office of the Volunteer Liaison consists of three non-uniformed employees of the FCFRD who report directly to the Fire Chief. They provide staff assistance to the Volunteer Fire Commission and are responsible for coordinating a range of functions regarding volunteer participation in the fire and rescue system.
Included in the Volunteer Liaison staff is a Volunteer Training Coordinator, who coordinates the training of operational volunteers to the same certification standards required of career personnel.