JCC Volunteer Rescue Squad Faces Budget Cuts

April 30th, 2010 by Kim Lenz

James City County’s proposed budget suggests a 30 percent funding cut for the county’s volunteer rescue squad due to what administrators are calling low response and lagging participation.

In 2010, the county provided over $74,000 to the volunteer rescue squad, and in the upcoming two fiscal years funding is reduced to $50,000. County Administrator Sandy Wanner told supervisors at Wednesday’s budget work session this was because “they’re not as responsive as they should be.”

County Fire Chief Tal Luton told supervisors that over a one-year period from May 2008 to May 2009, there were 939 calls to the volunteer station, which would have required a minimum of 1,878 volunteer trips. Only 84 members responded, which is about a 4 percent response rate during that time period.

President of the volunteer rescue squad Paul Reier spoke at the budget hearing Tuesday evening, and asked supervisors not to cut funding to his organization.

He told supervisors the costs for maintaining three ambulances and other vehicles has increased, and that the squad’s other source of financial support, the United Way, has reduced their funding by 50 percent because of the county’s relatively new ambulance fee.

This year will be the third year the county has had an ambulance fee, according to Luton. The county bills a patient’s insurance if the county transported someone to the hospital, but the fee is waived if a resident has no insurance or for other hardship. The county was looking for a way to recoup some EMS costs and, according to Luton, the fee brings in about $1.5 million a year, which offsets a little less than 50 percent of the $3 million the county pays for EMS service.

The county collects the fee and fully funds its own EMS department, which has four full-time EMTs who respond to calls. The volunteer rescue squad is supposed to supplement the career county staff, just as the volunteer fire department supplements the work done by the county’s paid firefighters. In turn, the county helps fund each volunteer group.

In an email to one supervisor, Reier said their entire budget could be covered by six percent of the ambulance fee.

He also pointed out to supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting that his department is getting cut, while the volunteer fire department is getting level funding.

According to Luton, volunteer firemen “are really stepping up to the plate,” and he estimates he would need about 18 full-time employees to provide the same service provided by the volunteer firefighters. Those positions would cost the county an additional $1 million, so he feels like the $93,000 given to support the volunteers is money well spent.

In contrast, the participation on the part of the volunteer rescue squad is very low. On top of the low number of volunteers who responded to calls during the one-year period examined above, there were 11 members (out of 27) who didn’t respond to any calls at all.

Luton says he is working with Reier and his staff now to give suggestions, and one of his staff is also analyzing data for the current year. Anecdotally, Luton says he hears there has been more participation on the part of the volunteer rescue staff in the past few months.

Training a new EMT takes a long time, too, Luton points out, and every rescue squad in the state is struggling to maintain qualified staff.

“I know they have some very good members, and lots of loyalty,” he says, but they also still have a lot of work to do.

6 Responses to JCC Volunteer Rescue Squad Faces Budget Cuts

  1. Anonymous

    April 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    i don’t understand. If the fire department in Toano is not as responsive as in years past, why cut funding? How does this affect my family should i have an emergency in Toano? Does this mean they REALLY won’t be as responsive since there is less money?

  2. Anonymous

    April 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I suppose that some benchmark is necessary to determine who to fund, cut and not fund in these challenging times. It seems that an unresponsiveness benchmark is appropriate in this case.

    My question relates to the two staffs: Is the Toano volunteer fire or rescue squad augmented by paid staff or are both 100% volunteer.

    How about the rest of JCC? Are they all volunteers, a combination of volunteer and paid or all paid?

    Why the distinction between Toano and JCC since Toano is part of JCC?

    If either or both staffs are “unresponsive” what steps are being taken to improve this situation? Is there a move underfoot to change the situation?

    I would appreciate knowing all of the above facts.

  3. Anonymous

    April 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    If the county is concerned about the quality and quantity of services provided then action and accountability provisions should be put in place to improve the services. That is a separate issue from funding. The EMS group should supply the county with itemized budget requests. Volunteer units do save a lot of money and can function at a high level-Gloucester Co. has been doing this for years also. Bottom line-do a review, make improvements as necessary, and give them the 24k if warranted.

  4. Anonymous

    May 1, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Maybe the 4% response rate is “good enough” to augment the paid JCC Fire Department response. My belief is that the level of funding is appropriate to maintain this facility.

  5. Anonymous

    May 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    There are two volunteer units operating out of the same station (in Toano): the James City County volunteer fire department, and the James City volunteer rescue squad. Each have separate boards, and receive separate funding from the county and other agencies. They help the paid county firefighters and EMT staff, own their own equipment, and respond to calls.

    County residents will always have their calls answered; fewer volunteers doesn’t mean less service, as the paid county staff are always available.

    The county funds these volunteer agencies through the general fund at
    the board’s discretion, like any other outside agency. They are not
    guaranteed funding.

  6. Anonymous

    May 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    ….something about the numbers in this story do not make sense to me…not sure what or why, just that the whole story seems very odd.

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