There are 407 volunteer or partly-volunteer fire departments in West Virginia, and they are the last line of protection for the homes and property of thousands of families. But many – perhaps most – of these departments are facing funding and staffing shortfalls which could threaten their very ability to continue.
Senate Bill 513, if approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, would allow volunteers and part-volunteer fire departments to use state grants to enhance their recruiting efforts. It’s only a small first step, but enough to have won the support of the West Virginia Firemen’s Association (WVFA).
“Without relief, fire departments will close,” predicted WVFA President G. T. Parsons. “Sadly, that would leave families and businesses without adequate emergency services, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Several have already closed their doors in the past few years. And “the problems we face today will doom other departments unless we find more support for our members,” Parsons said, adding, “Too many must rely on hot dog sales and raffles to raise money – and do not have adequate funding to conduct successful campaigns for new members.” He said the failure of local departments would create greater risks for West Virginians. He cautioned that the availability of fire and emergency services also has financial implications for families and businesses. “The strength and capabilities of local fire departments affect residents’ and businesses’ property insurance rates, which depend, in part, on the proximity and quality of local emergency services,” he explained.
“This is not a new problem, but it is a problem that has reached a critical stage,” Parsons said. “By working with the Legislature, we can address this situation and allow our communities to continue to rely on local emergency services.”
“We are grateful that members of the Legislature are interested in reversing this troubling trend,” he said. “They understand the value of locally-based fire and emergency services. We must stop this decline now, or we’ll pay the price both financially and through personal loss.”