WEBER CITY, Va. (WJHL) – Officials with the Weber City Volunteer Fire Department this Christmas dealt with a common issue every time it snows: going out of service due to bad road conditions.
The fire department officially went out of service around 9 a.m. Friday and came back into service around 10:45 Saturday morning. Over 24 hours, 4,000 households would not have a first responder available because the fire department could not get heavy machinery off the hill upon which the firehouse is located.
“For somebody that’s done this for 10 years, it sucks,” Weber City VFD Captain Hunter Hensley told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “It’s not just knowing that I can’t help somebody else, but what if it was my house? What if it was me in the car and my own people can’t come because they won’t clear our roads?”
About 45 minutes after the station reopened for service, they got their first call – a car fire.
“Within 45 minutes, we were responding to a car on fire. Luckily nothing bad happened while we were out of service, but 45 minutes later, if the hill hadn’t been cleaned, they would’ve been without us on that,” Hensley said.
The main problem the WCVFD is facing, according to fire officials, is the lack of communication – and action – from the street clearers employed by the Town of Weber City.
“The snow, which with the rain before it, was a solid sheet of ice under it, and our roads don’t get cleaned, our roads to the fire department, which you’ve seen is a nice little hill to climb, and they don’t get cleaned, so, we don’t have a choice – we either clean it ourselves or we go out of service, and most of the time it’s both – we go out of service and then we come up here and clean the hill ourselves,” Hensley explained.
Hensley told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the city does not actively communicate with the WCVFD, so they cannot coordinate a road cleanup.
WCVFD Chief Bruce Cross said that he often goes looking for the town’s street scrapers when it snows. This Christmas, he had a particularly interesting run-in with them, he explained.
“I was in that truck trying to find them, and I had to pull them out of the ditch because they were somewhere else and I wasn’t real nice,” he said.
He added that he thinks there needs to be a list of places in the town that should be considered a priority to clear first, and on that list should be the road to the fire department, Cross added.
“I have been chief here about five years, and I’ve had to go chase them down because they would be somewhere else ploughing when this one hasn’t been touched in the town. So, I try to stress the importance of that, you know, we probably need to be on the first list,” he said.
Chief Cross explained why the station had to go out of service for Christmas this year:
If there is a fire, the chief explained: “This truck right here that I’m touching right now, this is our tanker. It holds 2,000 gallons of water. We used this truck two nights ago to back up another fire department in our jurisdiction, in our area. Taking this truck off this hill right here, the way it is right now, we will end up either in the funeral home, or Dollar General, or on the other side of the railroad tracks, because it’s 2,000 gallons of water, that’s 16,000 lbs plus the truck. They will not stop on ice, they go where they want to.”
If there is a bad wreck, he added: “If we have a car wreck or anything like that going on, this truck over here, the larger truck, this is our heavy rescue truck, it’s equipped to handle any kind of car wreck, semi wreck, tractor turnovers, it’s got airbags on it, it’s got everything on that truck that we could possibly need to try to safe somebody’s life, to get them extricated out of a vehicle or out from underneath the vehicle. If we can’t roll this truck, this truck right here is very heavy, it weighs 58,000 lbs loaded, it’s very heavy, we can’t take it down icy hills, it would not survive. It’s critical that we keep these hills and these roads right here clean.”
He said this shutdown was unnecessary because the town should simply have had the hills in front of the fire house cleared of snow first.
“I do understand that county roads are not always clean, but we need to try to at least make an attempt to get there. The way it is right now, we can’t. We can’t get out of our parking lot because once we hit the road, we’re done. So, we need help in trying to get that taken care of, we also need help just trying to get off of this hill to another location,” he said.
Captain Hensley told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the WCVFD receives a budgetary amount of roughly $40,000 per year.
“That money we get from the county, pays our insurance cost to insure all of our firefighters and that’s about as far as it’s able to go, though. It takes a lot to cover insurance on 20 people, and payments for trucks and utility bills and stuff like that, it takes a lot just to keep it running in the first place,” he explained.
He said money isn’t the biggest issue when it comes to moving the firehouse to a new location, he simply seeks the support of town and county officials.
“Money’s a big thing, but we need their support. We need their backing to get into it, saying that if we can’t do it on our own, that they will help us, if we need help,” Hensley said.
Chief Cross added that if they had not gone back into service, his crews would have been unable to attend to a car fire Saturday morning.
“We’re going out of service and we don’t need to be going out of service because prior to this shutdown right here when I shut us down, 45 minutes after I opened us back up, we had a car fire. We were able to roll and put that car fire out. No one was injured, thank God, but we were able to respond,” he said.
News Channel 11 has reached out to town officials, but have been unable to reach anyone for comment.