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Berkeley Co. hires three volunteer fire department chiefs

April 29, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Three of Berkeley County's five volunteer fire department chiefs were hired by the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday to work full-time for the county as firefighter/hazardous material technicians.

William T. "Tommy" Newcomb of Bedington, Daniel L. Petry of Back Creek Valley and Martin D. "Marty" Roberts of Baker Heights volunteer fire departments were chosen from nine people interviewed for the new positions.

Their employment with the Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (OHSEM) is contingent upon completion of a background investigation and physical and drug-testing in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, Deputy County Administrator Alan Davis said.

Their annual salary will be $30,548. Davis said they could be on staff by mid-May.

The county received 17 applications for the new full-time positions. Davis said the county received interest from some "great" applicants.

Newcomb, Petry and Roberts have about 75 years combined experience in firefighting.

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OHSEM Director Stephen S. Allen said the department will still need to have eight 12-hour shifts covered by part-time staff, but that is much more manageable than 20 shifts.

Fire apparatus are to be dispatched with a minimum four-person crew as part of protections for the firefighters, according to NFPA standards, which recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"The overarching reason for the (staffing standards) is so that everyone goes home," Allen said.

A study released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that the size of firefighting crews has a substantial effect on the fire service's ability to protect lives and property in residential fires.

The study found that four-person firefighting crews were able to complete 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a typical residential structure 30 percent faster than two-person crews and 25 percent faster than three-person crews, according to NIST.

The volunteer fire departments have been "reporting to us they don't have enough people," Allen said Thursday.

The hiring of the three firefighters completes a reorganization of Allen's department that the county commission authorized last fall.

G. Edgar "Eddie" Gochenour, who retired from the City of Martinsburg's fire department, was hired in January as deputy director under Allen. Davis said federal grant money is making the additional hires possible without increasing the county budget.

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