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Lawmaker, firefighting leaders say more work to do on funding


CHARLESTON — The last act of the House of Delegates during the special session call this week was to approve $12 million in funding for struggling volunteer fire departments and EMS units.

The Senate amended the bill funding source from the state surplus to a permanent funding source igniting debate for delegates before agreeing to the move.

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said the change to a permanent funding source now requires them to find a way to maintain it in the budget moving forward. That’s why Statler remained in Charleston Wednesday to lay the foundation to continue that funding.

“There are all kinds of ways we can do it, and that’s why we have to get started now to get this ready, so we’re not surprised in January and we’re ready to go,” Statler said on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.” “The speaker committed to me that we’re going to do this.”

The bill will send $6 million to the Fire Protection Fund to be distributed by county commissions based on population; plus $3 million to the County Fire Protection Fund, and $3 million to the Growth Fire Protection Fund to be distributed at the state level.

“The county commissioners can put that out however they want to do it,” Statler said. “Basically, the only conditions are that it has to go to fire and EMS.”

West Virginia Fire Chief’s Association President Randy James believes much of the interstate system in the state is covered by volunteer fire and EMS organizations. He doesn’t think state lawmakers realize the majority of interstate crashes are handled by volunteer agencies, not full-time agencies funded by a

“A volunteer is probably going to respond to that crash or what ever that may be on the interstate, and I want to get those figures and facts,” James said.

The lack of funding has become a way of life for fire departments across the state, yet they find a way to keep the lights on and the trucks running. But he said as the financial strains continue, there are likely to be fewer people willing to learn the trade and help their communities.

“We can no longer expect these people to volunteer to do this work for us, to go out there and be able to fight fires, go out and remove trees and obstacles from the road — you name it, they do it along with EMS,” Statler said.