Orange County supervisors dissolve county's volunteer rescue squad

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ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the change of the current ordinance suspending the Orange County Volunteer Rescue Squad's emergency services from temporary to permanent.

Supervisors say the decision comes on the heels of years of problems the rescue squad has been having with staffing and legal troubles.

Records show that former staff members were fired or suspended for embezzling money, failing to pass the requirements of a driver's license, and more.

Rescue squad members say they feel blindsided by the decision, because they say they were under the impression that the county was getting ready to help them instead of shutting them down.

"Basically it was an agreed upon in discussions earlier on [in 2016], and then we went into a written agreement. Then, towards the end of the year, they kind of just turned on us," said Melinda Cunningham, President of the Orange County Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Supervisors say they didn't promise the squad anything, and the meetings held with board members of the rescue squad didn't present anything to change their minds.

Cunningham says the decision to permanently suspend them will end up costing money for the taxpayers.

"They lost volunteers providing that service for them. Eventually, the taxes will go up because as more calls go through, they're going to have more staff positions to fill," she said.

Supervisors said they are looking into replacing the hole left by the rescue squad with an fire auxiliary staff. Cunningham says that will still cost money, and other rescue squad members say they were told by the county not to apply to be a part of the auxiliary staff. Supervisors say that's not true.

A couple of people spoke on behalf of the rescue squad, including the Town of Orange's Mayor Harry Mason. Many of them said they hope the legacy of the rescue squad will be preserved somehow, since the department has been serving the community for more than 65 years.

Cunningham says the rescue squad members still plan to be a part of the community, even though they won't be providing emergency services.

"We'll still be around for community events, as well as provide educational training. As the supervisors reported, we do have a building, and we do have a banquet room, and we hope that they open that back up for whatever the community needs it for," she said.

She also said that at the end of day, regardless of what they end up being able to do in the community, the decision to dissolve the squad is disheartening.

"It was just a total disappointment because a lot of energy was put into it over the years, and at times we just feel like our trust was broken," she said.

Both county officials and rescue squad members say the community shouldn't worry about their emergency services. Other agencies in the area will still be answering their calls and responding to disasters, and county officials say most people won't even notice the change.

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