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August 9, 2015

Did you know that volunteers comprise 69% of Firefighters in the United States?

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, of the total estimated 1,129,250 firefighters across the country, 783,300 are volunteers. The majority of the departments in the United States are volunteer fire departments and many do not have the vital tools and equipment they need to save lives and protect property.

Did you know that it costs approximately $27,095 to train and equip, just one Firefighter?

Equipping a firefighter can be very costly, and yes, your tax dollars goes towards this equipment. Tax dollars alone cannot purchase everything. There are small and rural fire departments all across the United States that do not receive any tax dollars and are supported by donation from the community. Often times that is not enough. Firefighters in those communities are doing the job without the vital equipment, which could lead to property damage, injury, or even death.

According to the most recent National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) US Fire Service Needs Assessment:

  • 53% of fire departments nationwide do not have enough Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for every firefighter on duty.
  • 72% of fire departments nationwide are still using fire gear past the recommended 10 year life span.
  • 50% of fire departments nationwide do not have enough portable radios for each firefighter on duty. This is extremely dangerous, if a firefighter gets lost or disoriented in a house fire, they have no life line to call for help.
  • 13% of fire departments nationwide do not have enough fire gear for every firefighter on duty.

How can you help?

By donating to Brothers Helping Brothers, you can help fund grants for vital tools and lifesaving equipment to these small and/or rural fire departments. By donating just $10 a month, that’s just 33 cent a day, you can put lifesaving equipment in the hands of a firefighter that needs it to do his/her job.

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Need more proof?

Volunteer Fire Dept. Receives Budget Cuts
by Breanna Fuss, Reporter
March 04, 2014 9:44 PM

The men and women who serve on volunteer fire departments face struggles that many regular fire departments don’t, lack of funding is one of those. For the Brandon Volunteer Fire Department, money hasn’t been an issue, but soon that could all change.

The Brandon Volunteer Fire Department gets its money from three places. One is Minnehaha County; the other is the city of Brandon, and then the township of Brandon. While the city and county are keeping their payments the same, township leaders are cutting funding. Tuesday night a town hall meeting was held to discuss the future payments to the department.

The Brandon Volunteer Fire Department is made up of 32 firefighters, who protect more than 9,500 residents of Brandon and its township from dangerous blazes.

Brandon Fire Chief Gary Lembcke said,” We feel it’s a little disheartening they are balancing the budget on the back of public safety.”

Lembcke said after failed negotiations, township leaders cut the department’s funding for 2014.

“They cut us from $16,500 to $12,500,” Lembcke said.

Lembcke said now the township boar is keeping their payment at $12,500 for 2015 as well.

“They believed they were over paying us, that we were over paid for our services, and with the payments we receive from the city, they feel that should cover our expenditures,” Lembcke said.

Lembcke explained that even though the department receives $160,000 annually from the city and the county, the $4,000 cut from the township, cuts deep.

“It may mean that we can’t replace trucks in a timely fashion, or we may have to decrease our inventory,” Lembcke said.

Vehicles like this wild land truck, which costs at least $100,000 and needs to be replaced.

Chair of the township board, Quentin Johnson said times are tough, and with an over $50,000 road project in the budget, the cuts have been made everywhere.

“I mean the fat needs to be trimmed somewhere, and they were getting paid too much anyways,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the board did some digging, and they learned the township was paying nearly double the average amount a township of their size pays a fire department.

But Lembcke said while he understands where the board is coming from, he wants to make sure his department is as up to date as possible, something these cuts surely won’t help.

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents sided with board members, and said road work should be a higher priority for now.

The hope is that once the road project is done, the department will be able to start getting more money.

Courtesy of KDLT.com, Sioux Falls, SD

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Volunteer Fire Departments Lack Money and Volunteers
Updated: Wed 4:04 AM, Jan 04, 2006
By: Meredith Stancik

Will Maddux drives a truck for Brazos Valley Welding, but during his spare time you can find him at Brazos County’s Precinct Four Fire Department.

“I’ve always wanted to be a volunteer fireman,” Maddux said.

As a volunteer fireman, Will answers calls whenever he’s in town, but he must clock out at work. That means no pay from his job and only four dollars per call from the fire department. However, Will says he’s one of the lucky ones; his employer appreciates what he does.

“I can see what he does, it’s a good thing,” Brazos Valley Welding’s Lance Anderson said.

However, other employers are not as fortunate and it’s affected local volunteer fire departments. With the number of grass fires spreading quickly the number of firemen dropped at one precinct four station from 25 to 20, and as staffing suffers, funding does too.

“When we have a high call volume like we’re having this year. obviously the money just runs out a little bit quicker,” Precinct Four’s Joe Ondrasek said.

In 1978 all volunteer fire departments were established in Brazos County surviving then only on donations like bake sales. Now departments receive donations, but they also started receiving tax money when tax districts were established here in 1980, as well as partial grants, but with 470 calls in 2005, 50 to 60 of them grass fires, money goes faster.

“Over the past five or 10 years that money has stayed the same, so we have not really seen a dramatic increase in our funding versus our calls, ” Ondrasek said. “There has been a ten to twenty percent increase per year in our calls and there is no funding increase.”

But folks like Will stick with it even though it gets frustrating as local volunteers continue to fight a problem with no end in sight.

Tuesday, FEMA authorized millions of dollars to help Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico fight fires. This money comes after the three states’ requests for federal fire management assistance as firefighters worked tirelessly to contain wind-driven wildfires.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant specifically designed for managing, mitigating and controlling any fire that threatens to become a major disaster.

Courtesy of KBTX.com, Bryan/College Station, TX

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Maryland volunteer fire companies struggle with donations, fewer volunteers
By Allison Bourg
5:37 PM, Mar 14, 2014

GLEN BURNIE, Md. – Paying $200 out of pocket for a $9,600 thermal imaging camera sounds like a deal to James Evans, chief of the Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Company.

The station has received $9,400 in grants to buy a new camera, which uses infrared technology to see through smoke and darkness.

Evans, chief of the Anne Arundel station since 2009, said its current camera is 11 years old. They should be replaced every five years.

But like many volunteer companies, the extra cash just isn’t there, in part due to economic fluctuations and a lack of community involvement.

Orchard Beach reported revenues of $76,942 in fiscal year 2013, according to Guidestar, an online database that catalogs non-profit organizations’ tax records. Its expenses were $99,608.

“You can’t put a price on someone’s life,” Evans said. “But you can put a price on what it takes to run a fire company.”

For the average volunteer fire company, that’s about $240,000 a year, said Jackie Olson, president of the Maryland State Firemens’ Association and a member of the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department in Glen Burnie.

Olson said Maryland’s volunteer fire companies get some funds from their county and through the state’s Senator William H. Amoss Fire, Rescue, and Ambulance Fund, which has $11.7 million in it this year. And then there are grants like the one Orchard Beach got.

But consider the state has more than 300 volunteer fire companies, and those resources are spread thin, Olson said. She said she wants to lead a group of volunteer firefighters to march on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis before the General Assembly session ends, armed with pieces of equipment with price tags attached.

Just the gear for a firefighter costs about $4,600, which most people don’t realize, she said.

Getting creative

Strapped for cash, local fire companies are finding creative ways to raise money.

“You can only have so many chicken dinners and spaghetti dinners and bingos,” Olson said.

The Middle River Volunteer Fire Co. in Baltimore County is selling ad space on the side of its trucks to local businesses.

SEE ALSO: Middle River Volunteer Fire Company sells ad space

The station has also talked about merging with the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue, because both agencies are in older buildings that need a lot of work, Middle River Volunteer Fire spokesman Bill Connelly said.

In 2010, Orchard Beach sold its ladder truck, which firefighters used about 10 times a year, to knock out hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease payments for other equipment.

“It was a real plus from a business perspective,” Evans said.

The Owings Mills Volunteer Fire Company has hired a consultant to go door to door to solicit donations. As an incentive, anyone who donates also gets their portrait taken at the fire department, vice president and public information officer Marci Catlett said. The consultant costs money, but all of the proceeds go directly to the fire department, she said.

Catlett said the department used to solicit mail order donations twice a year, but they started losing money on the drive because no one was sending anything. The department only sends out mail order solicitations once a year now.

Olson said that’s a problem volunteer companies are experiencing statewide.

“You can’t always keep drawing from the well, which is the community you serve,” she said.

Allen Roody, the president of the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company, said donations to the company have remained steady, possibly because the station serves an affluent area.

But then again, more houses are being built within the station’s coverage area, so the need is bigger, Roody said.

So are equipment prices. The station needs to replace its 15-year-old ladder truck, which was purchased for $650,000. The same type of truck costs $1.3 million today due to new safety standards and other requirements.

That’s not an amount that can be easily raised doing a few car washes, Roody said.

At Orchard Beach, fundraising has been an adventure, Evans said. The station’s fundraising efforts range from bingo to hall rentals, but Evans said there’s not a ton of support from the community.

It could be because many people move to the area from out of state and don’t feel as connected to their local fire department.

Or it could be because people are busy with their jobs and have less disposable income.

“One of my lieutenants is in charge of community outreach, and one of the big things we’re focused on is just trying to get out into the community,” Evans said.

Kimberly Quiroz, spokeswoman for the National Volunteer Fire Council, said the local stations are feeling the effects of a national trend.

“I’m hearing that time and time again in the grant applications. The donation base is just less over the last few years,” Quiroz said. “I’m not surprised to hear that departments are thinking out of the box.”

Middle River tried hosting poker tournaments, and that worked out for a few months. But that was hard to sustain because it was hard to get station members who wanted to work as dealers, Connelly said. It seems to be harder to get people to volunteer at all, another side effect of the economy, station leaders said.

Less time to volunteer

Catlett has been a member of the Owings Mills department for 18 years as well as a lifetime member at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department.

In her early days as a firefighter, volunteers signed up in droves, she remembered. Stations had to turn people away because they didn’t have enough equipment.

It’s not like that anymore.

Catlett suggested it’s because people are busier, and the training to be a volunteer firefighter has become much more time consuming as technology has advanced.

And some firefighters are juggling two jobs. Of the 75 active volunteers at Owings Mills, about 20 have more than one job, Catlett said.

Quiroz said the number of volunteers has been declining for several decades. The council estimates there are 13 percent less volunteer firefighters than there were in 1984, the first year the organization began tracking recruitment.

“Some of it is economic. To be a volunteer, you have to have free time, and if people are commuting and driving a long distance, or you have two jobs, that’s going to leave less time for volunteering,” she said.

Olson, also the volunteer coordinator for Anne Arundel County, said she hasn’t noticed a decrease in the number of people who want to volunteer. She gets about 300 applications from volunteer hopefuls each year, with about half going on to complete the training.

She has noticed, though, that volunteers seem to have less time to give.

“Where they might have had three nights to give, now they only have two, either because they’re working longer hours or they have two jobs,” Olson said.

Courtesy of WMAR, Baltimore, MD

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Fire Department in Danger After Levy Fails
By Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec
Nov 12 2014

The St. Albans, West Virginia Fire Department is just one of a growing number of fire departments across the country that is finding itself in fiscal jeopardy.A levy that helps fund the department, and that’s been on the ballot since 1951, failed. The St. Albans Fire levy comes up every 3 to 5 years and for decades has had the community’s support. “When it didn’t pass this time it was really pretty shocking because the community loves us and has always been super supportive of everything we’ve ever needed,” said Chief Steve Parsons.

On November 4, 2014 St. Albans voters rejected the levy, which supplies half of the $1.6 million budget for the fire department. That money helps fun the more than 1,500 emergency calls the department responds to each year. It also helps pay the salaries of the 22 full-time and 5 part-time firefighters serving the St. Albans area.

In Connellsville, Pennsylvania, the majority of Connellsville voters decided on Election Day 2014 that they want to eliminate Connellsville’s paid fire departmentand only remaining paid firefighter.

Providing fire protection as we currently know it is for the most part a very people, equipment, and facility intensive operation. Those firefighters, fire apparatus, and fire stations–and support facilities such as training centers and administrative buildings—represent a very significant fiscal outlay for most communities and that “bill” grows larger every year.

And increasingly, those communities are “balking”—at the voting booth or through decreasing donations to volunteer departments–when it comes to “paying” that bill.

When any service business or company finds itself in financial straits, its leadership only has a couple of options:

Reduce the number of full-time positions (since personnel costs account for 75-90 percent of a business’s operating expenses) in the hopes that reduced expenditures can help get the business “back in the black”;
Restructure the business to reduce the number and types of services that it provides;
Find a willing buyer to purchase the company and its assets (and liabilities); or
Go out of business.
When faced with inadequate fiscal resources, fire departments have universally employed Option #1 and/or to some degree Option #2. Option #3 has been employed by local leaders through the outsourcing of local fire protection to private sector organizations. Heretofore, Option #4 was only something that could happen to a volunteer organization. The times they are a changing.

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