As a longtime financial supporter of the former sheriff and the Sheriff’s Institute, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Deeds’ comments in The Virginia Gazette about my essay outlining the need for a sixth fire station in James City County. I have done my research, and I have spoken with the current fire chief, a retired chief officer, the International Association of Fire Fighters local 2498, local firefighters and retired firefighters to understand issues impacting response times in upper county and the need for a sixth fire station and increased personnel at fire Station 1 in the interim.

It is a fact that Station 1 in Toano is often outside of the six-minute response window. This is due to the rural character of the area and the distance involved in traversing the Stonehouse District. This has only been compounded by recent growth, and more growth is on the horizon. If a unit is already dispatched and another call comes in, the unit that responds to that call could be coming from Station 4 on Olde Towne Road or Station 3 on John Tyler Highway. If that call needs to go to say, The Haven, there is no way it will arrive in less than six minutes. As per the adopted JCC 2045 Comprehensive Plan, the public facility and service guidelines are derived from a combination of sources. Many of the guidelines were established after reviewing standards set by federal, state and other local plans. Some reflect the limits established by other independent agencies. Each individual county department and public agency directly affected by these standards was consulted regarding the relevance and effectiveness of the existing service guidelines. These community guidelines are unique to James City County and are a product of research and analyses by the department heads, planning division staff and administration.

So, in a nutshell, JCC has decided to hold itself to a higher standard than the National Fire Protection Association 1720, which Mr. Deeds cited with regard to a 14-minute response time. As a matter of fact, JCC actually follows NFPA 1710 as a guideline for response times and staffing. NFPA 1720 is actually for volunteer fire departments, while NFPA 1710 is for career fire departments. And while Station 1 in Toano relies on both volunteer and career firefighters, the fire department as a whole is a career fire department. It’s my understanding that NFPA 1720 has significantly lower staffing guidelines that JCC would not follow. It is for that reason they strive to meet the NFPA 1710 guideline, which recommends a response time of four minutes.

The other factor to consider when discussing response time in the Stonehouse District is that while Station 1 is very well equipped, it has fewer career firefighters than the surrounding fire stations. That fire station is supplemented with volunteer firefighters, but until a sixth fire station can be built, a stop gap could be to employ more firefighters, EMTs and paramedics at Station 1, who could them move to the sixth fire station once opened.

With regard to homeowners’ insurance rates, I have spoken with a licensed agent in JCC who represents over 40 homeowner insurance agencies in Virginia. They all base their rates on the distance to a fire station and a fire hydrant. A homeowner could actually receive a lower quote based on the distance to a fire station, but that could then be mitigated by insufficient access to fire hydrants. Insurance rates are complex. I know that I personally pay a higher homeowners insurance rate living in Stonehouse than when I lived in Fords Colony. My house in Stonehouse is considered “unprotected” by Insurance Services Office rates because my house is more than 5 miles from a fire station. All of this is to say, it is clear that a sixth fire station is needed. Construction was slated to begin in 2021 with a completion date of 2023, but COVID-19 impacted that timeline. The JCC Board of Supervisors must weigh in on many public safety, educational, recreational, roads, zoning and other projects to determine the best plan to meet those needs with the revenue available.

Let’s not forget that our fire stations are home to our emergency medical services as well as fire. Every minute counts if a person is having a life-threatening medical issue. A few minutes longer can be the difference between life and death.

I am running for the Stonehouse Board of Supervisors seat because I am eager to put my strategic leadership and passion for our community to use in making these critical decisions and protecting our families.

Lisa Ownby lives in Toano and is running for the James City County Board of Supervisors Stonehouse seat.