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Fire departments request additional funds

County supervisors in Buckingham are considering incorporating an increase in funding for volunteer fire departments, which could begin as soon as the next fiscal year.

Dr. Brian Bates, a former supervisor who serves as chief of the Toga Volunteer Fire Department, submitted the request on behalf of the chiefs of the county’s four fire departments: Dillwyn, Arvonia, Toga and Glenmore.

According to the proposal, the rolling appropriation would allot an additional $200,000 to one of the four volunteer fire departments annually. Over a four-year period — after all four departments have received the proposed $200,000 — the county would have spent an additional $800,000 on the departments.

County Administrator Rebecca S. Carter introduced the proposal to supervisors during their Monday meeting.

Rebecca S. Carter

Rebecca S. Carter

“It’s a joint request,” said Carter. “That would be a rolling, ongoing thing. It would go back to fire department one once it’s going through two, three and four. I’m requesting you all, if you want to consider this proposal … Dr. Bates has asked if there could be a sit-down meeting between the board and the fire chiefs or perhaps the finance committee and the fire chiefs.”

District Six Supervisor Joe N. Chambers Jr. said he preferred the board’s finance committee meet with the department chiefs — a recommendation which the board agreed to.

“Basically, what they’re asking for is an additional $200,000 in addition to what we give them now, but on a rotating basis … It’s just like writing them a blank check,” District Two Supervisor Donnie Bryan said.

“I certainly think the chiefs are open to sitting down and talking about it,” Carter said. “(Whether it’s) the finance committee or the board.”

“The chiefs of the four Buckingham County Volunteer Fire Departments have been engaged in discussions over the past few months regarding the best path forward to secure the financial position of the fire service in Buckingham to ensure our readiness to meet the emergency needs of the county,” the four said in the letter to Carter regarding the matter. “As you know, the cost of nearly everything related to fire service equipment, gear, insurance, etc. has historically been quite high. Apparatus are the high-profile items that everyone knows are unbelievably expensive — a new pumper can easily exceed $400,000 — but what most people don’t realize is that merely outfitting one firefighter with personal protective equipment and a radio can easily top $2,500. This gear needs to be replaced on a rotating basis in order to maintain effective firefighter protection. Self-contained breathing apparatus cost about $7,000 each, and every department requires at least a dozen of these units. These are just a few examples of the expenses that each department routinely deals with.”

From a financial perspective, the four wrote, “over the past five years, all four departments have averaged approximately $110,880 in revenue, with the county contributing an average of $54,000 per department over that same time. Expenses over this same time have averaged $103,280, producing a surplus of just $7,600 to cover any unforeseen expenses. There have been years where a deficit has occurred as revenue has dipped and expenses exceed forecasts. Bearing in mind that each of the four departments has approximately 20 active members, this means that no more than 80 volunteer firefighters are providing all fire service protection to a county of more than 17,000 people. Needless to say, the workload on these volunteers is extensive.”

Adding to the workload, the chiefs said in their letter with the “need to engage in regular training to maintain readiness and the ever-present need to engage in fundraising … you can readily understand that there is an incredible amount of pressure on the volunteer members of the county’s fire service. This is what led our leadership to meet to discuss these issues.”

Dr. Brian Bates

Dr. Brian Bates

According to Bates’ email to Carter, “we want to be clear that all four fire departments are stable and that our finances are well-managed. We do not have the financial issues that are facing the volunteer rescue squad. We are, however, concerned about our capacity to meet the financial obligations required to maintain an effective, well-equipped and trained volunteer fire service and our proposal is a way that we believe we can secure the position of the fire service for the benefit of the citizens of Buckingham County well into the future.”

According to the letter, on average, each volunteer fire department responds to 12 structure fires, 10 fire alarm activations, 28 motor vehicle accidents, 11 vehicle equipment fires, 24 brush fires, 12 general emergency calls and 10 landing zone set-ups for helicopters on an annual basis.

“Out of our discussions, it became clear that each department has financial needs that are significant and require long-range planning in order to ensure that we are able to maintain readiness and meet our mission to serve the citizens of Buckingham County,” the four said. “To that end, we have developed (a) proposal. We would like the county to consider implementing a rolling appropriation to each department, in addition to the regular appropriation, to assist us with the large purchases that are facing each department. By providing this on a rotating basis, each department will be able to plan for these expenses in such a way that will make paying for them manageable.”

The rotating $200,000 to the departments would be in addition to their regular annual appropriation.

“We recognize that this is a large request, although we also believe that the future of an effective fire service lies in a solution such as this … Additionally, each department will be submitting its regular appropriation request separately,” the four said in the letter.

If supervisors agree to the request, the additional funding could be incorporated into the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.