Earlier this year, Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen announced the appointment of Ed Brazle to Chief of the Department of EMS, effective June 22. Brazle had been serving as Interim Chief since February and previously held a number of positions with the department since his tenure began in 1996. Prior to that, he was a volunteer with Kempsville VRS. Below, he addresses questions about the state of the department and his priorities as the new Chief.
Q: What did you learn from your time as a volunteer?
I had previously worked for a career service that required a paramedic on every ambulance. In Virginia Beach, I learned very quickly that EMTs could (and should)
be empowered to handle the majority of calls. I also learned that there are unlimited opportunities for our volunteers to participate in EMS beyond the ambulance. I gained a great deal of experience as a rescue squad officer, field supervisor and special ops team member, all of which helped me become a better medic and ultimately a better chief officer.
Q: What are your priorities in this new position?
We’ve seen a decline in our ranks over the past few years. While the sky is not falling, we need to take major steps to address recruiting and retention in order to sustain VBEMS into the future. We’ve taken a number of actions to address this, including implementing online orientation and training, as well as hiring a full-time marketing and communications coordinator. It’s a good start, but we have lots of work ahead.
Another priority has been to stabilize the organization. There were a number of critical vacancies in the career and volunteer ranks. We also needed to reset our structure to better support the rescue squads. The recent hiring of Division Chiefs Lipscomb and Nedelka was the final step in getting the leadership team back on track.
Q: How do you interpret the city’s desire to make the volunteer system a high priority?
Volunteer recruiting and retention was identified as one of City Council’s top priorities earlier this year. City Manager Hansen has participated in a number of key VBEMS meetings, including sessions with Rescue Council and the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation. We have their attention.
City Council provided additional funding this year to support training activities and operations. They also authorized the creation of a full-time (EMS) marketing and communications coordinator. Both represent significant investments in our future.
Q: What is the city prepared to do to help with recruitment and retention?
There is no silver bullet. To start, we must reset our approach. An entire division has been created for the sole purpose of supporting our volunteer resources. We’ve overhauled the intake and training process. We’re changing how our supervisors operate. We’ve also gathered information from town hall sessions and workshops, and our next step is to address the ideas and concerns we’ve identified.
No matter what the department does, we still need the active participation of Rescue Council, the individual squads and the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation to succeed.
Q: What are the challenges facing emergency medical management in Virginia Beach going forward?
Sustainability is the greatest challenge. To cover rising call demands, we need more staffing. That means we need to recruit, train and retain more members, which will require more funding for advertising, staff to support intake/training and infrastructure to support the larger membership.
On the rescue squad side, we’ll need additional ambulances, officers, uniforms, supplies, etc., which will require additional donations and commitment on the part of the individual squad members. I am confident we can address sustainability if we start working on it today. We need to have serious conversations and look for creative solutions.
Q: Why should someone consider taking the classes to become an EMT?
Do it to learn something totally new. Do it to help others. Do it to be a part of something truly special. Do it to possibly find a new career. Do it to challenge yourself. Do it to have fun. Every member has his or her own reason for becoming an EMT. I took the class to become better prepared as a military member.
When I moved to Virginia Beach, I joined Kempsville VRS because I liked running calls. After the first shift, I realized I had found a new home. I was instantly connected to the community and made many great friends. I had great experiences on and off calls. Ultimately, I found a passion for public safety leadership that led me to where I am today.