told lawmakers during an April interim meeting Tuesday that the lack of funding for West Virginia’s volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services has reached a crisis level.
James pointed out that volunteer fire departments have not been given a line-item budget increase since 2005 and emergency medical services have never had one, all while the departments are facing skyrocketing operation costs, along with a precipitous decline in retention and recruitment.
James mentioned that 15 EMS squads have closed their doors since the beginning of 2022 alone. While volunteer fire departments are more reluctant to close, with the lack of state funding, retention and recruitment is a challenge, particularly because of the fundraising commitments that come with the job.
James emphasized that these departments need state funding so volunteers can spend their time training, maintaining equipment and facilities, and responding to calls, not serving hot dogs or organizing raffles.
James mentioned a lack of morale among VFD and EMS personnel when a bill that would have split $12 million between the state’s fire department’s and emergency medical services failed late in the 2023 session.
While lawmakers agree that fire and medical services are in dire need of the funding, they struggle to find consensus on a source of that money, with some favoring increasing a surcharge on fire and casualty insurance policies, and others preferring to use lottery funds.
James told lawmakers that volunteer fire departments and EMS personnel combined their lobbying efforts for funding this year and they are committed to doing that in the future.
Senator Bill Hamilton (R-Upshur, 11) mentioned that if something is not done soon, volunteer fire departments will inevitably close their doors, resulting in steep increases in homeowners insurance rates in those communities.
Hamilton and other lawmakers said they are determined to solve this problem by securing the funding for these vital services at some point in 2023.