The Delta Record | W.Va. Senate Bill 420 can help VFDs recruit volunteer members

West Virginians are used to relying on friends and neighbors in times of need. Our state’s volunteer fire departments — made up of these friends and neighbors — provide a reliable safety net for communities across the state.

However, this safety net is collapsing. Too many volunteer departments, under financial pressure, lack volunteers.

The West Virginia State Firemen’s Association supports Senate Bill 420. If passed and signed by the governor, the bill would increase funding for volunteer and partially volunteer fire departments by changing the surtax on taxable fire insurance premiums from 0.55% to 1%.

Facts are facts: Several volunteer fire departments have closed over the past 13 years. The consequences are troubling. Families and businesses lose access to emergency services and fire protection. After a station closes, the closest fire department to a home or business may be 40 km away, not 8 km. Response times inevitably increase, and those extra minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

As recruitment and retention of volunteers becomes increasingly difficult each year, we will likely see the closure of new volunteer departments. These closures put additional pressure on the remaining departments to expand their service areas and ensure they have the right staff to respond in a timely and professional manner.

Senate Bill 420 identifies a logical source of revenue – a fire insurance policy surcharge. With local fire departments closing and emergency services dwindling, home and business owners will see their fire insurance rates go up. Insurance companies recognize the link between the quality and proximity of emergency services and the risk faced by homeowners and businesses.

Given this reality, strengthening the West Virginia Volunteer Fire Department is prudent for both public safety and financial reasons.

Our citizens see their local firefighters hold hot dog sales and raffles to raise funds to support volunteer services. Equipment, fuel and training are expensive, but the most critical element of every fire department is the personnel. We need to recruit and retain volunteers who will sacrifice their time and accept the risks associated with providing essential emergency services. Their commitment makes our communities stronger.

Volunteer fire departments play a vital role in many West Virginia communities. Our citizens know and trust our volunteers. Our VFDs have rich traditions of supporting the quality of life in our communities, but we cannot take them for granted.

This is not a new problem. This is a problem that has reached a critical stage. We believe the people of West Virginia have a vested interest in ensuring the success of their local VFDs. By working with the Legislative Assembly, we can solve this chronic problem and allow our communities to continue to rely on local emergency services.

Romney’s GT Parsons is president of the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association.

Norman D. Briggs