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VFDs and EMS

2023 Update

   “I can’t believe we are once again on the cusp of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” Those were the words that I spoke from the House Floor as the House was wrapping up the last day of the First Special Session on August 8, 2023.  

   I am not on the Committee for Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services, but I work closely with the Chairman of the committee, Del. Phil Mallow.   Sadly, as was predicted by those with more experienced than me, in the closing hours of the last day of the 2023 Regular Session the bill to provide funding for our Fire Departments died on the House Floor because we could not reach an agreement on the last minute amendments that were proposed.  This sequence of events also happened in 2022.  Yet, with each passing year more and more VFDs and EMS companies close due to a lack of people and money.

   Fortunately, during our First Special Session for 2023 finding a funding solution for our VFDs and EMS companies was one of the tasks the Legislature was tasked to accomplish. As the last night of the Special Session was wrapping up, more than a quarter of the members of the House had already started to head home because it was understood that we had a “deal” with the Senate that would provide some funding for our VFDs and EMS companies. And then the bill, SB1021, came back to the House with new, and unexpected changes; changes that were turning the tide against the bill.  I then made what was likened by some as a “passionate” speech, something I had never done before, that according to many was what turned the tide to help the House pass SB1021 69 Yeas to 5 Nays with 26 Absent Members.

Rick Hillenbrand making a passionate speech, aiding in the passing of the SB1021 bill

We need legislation to assist our Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) / Rescue Squads.  The stark reality is that our VFD and Rescue Squads are suffering from a lack of volunteers. (Maybe you might want to consider becoming a volunteer?)

   On March 18, 2022 the Sharples VFD in Logan County notified the communities of Kelly, Blair, Sharples, Mifflin and Clothier that “…due to inadequate and non-availability of people/volunteers … (they) have begun the process of dissolving.” 

   This is a looming issue that is going to bite us in the “behind” real bad if we do not do something.  Already here in Hampshire and Mineral Counties some of our Rescue Squads have shut down, and some of the remaining VFDs and Rescue squads are barely hanging on.

   It has been suggested to me by some individuals that to address our emergency services needs, we should go to fire departments staffed entirely with paid personnel.  The suggestion to go to all paid fire fighters is usually done without much consideration to the cost.  A recent estimate of what it would “take” to provide JUST paid firefighters statewide was pegged at $550 million per year.  The US Census Bureau estimated that last July WV had just under 1,773,000 people. On a “per capita” basis, the $550 million dollar bill for paid fire fighters would equate to nearly $308.50 per resident…. annually; which is not something I believe the residents of WV can readily afford.

   During the 2022 Regular Legislative session, had it passed (it did not) WV Senate Bill 420 would have provided an average of $40,000 per VFD across the state annually. The beauty of the SB 420 was that it would not have cost the taxpayers any additional new fees or taxes, because it would have repurposed an insurance surcharge that is already being collected and held by the insurance companies. 

   Should I be fortunate to be elected to the WV House of Delegates, I will do what I can to help sustain and support our volunteer emergency personnel and organizations through legislation similar to SB 420.  It is my opinion that if we don’t act now, we will soon find many more VFDs and Rescue Squads will follow the path of the Sharples VFD.  If managed correctly, perhaps we can reverse past decisions such that Hampshire County and others that have imposed an Ambulance Fee will be able to rescind those fees in the future.

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