Fire department costs up, funding down

Contributed by Mike Feazel, Lake Monticello News

Cost increases, many related to the pandemic, are making the annual fund drive of Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire & Rescue more important than ever, LMVFR officials said. The pandemic resulted in less county funding, less bingo revenue, and significantly higher operating and equipment costs, they said.

The fund drive now underway has a $120,000 goal, LMVFR officials said. The pandemic has had less impact on fundraising than you might imagine, said John Lye, the department’s head of water rescue. But other funding sources have been reduced, even as costs went up, he said.

“We’ve really been affected by the county’s willingness to provide funds,” Lye said.  “They completely eliminated all CIP funds one year, citing COVID-related revenue decreases, and we have been playing catch up ever since. Meanwhile, all costs are going up, including vehicle repair costs, personal protective equipment costs, fuel costs, and apparatus replacements costs”

Gasoline and diesel costs have “almost doubled,” said Fire Chief Richard Constantino, and propane costs also increased. “Firefighting personal protective gear (boots, coats, helmets, pants) costs have increased dramatically,” Constantino said. “They’ve almost doubled for certain items compared to pre-pandemic. He said the $85 cost of a pair of firefighting gloves, for example, has increased by 75 percent since the pandemic.

Even if it’s available instead of sitting on ships, the cost of firefighting apparatus costs “has increased about 10 percent in the last year and half,” with another substantial price increase expected Feb. 1. That means a $160,000 increase in the cost of a $1.6 million fire truck, for example, due to price increases of steel, aluminum and other factors that trickle down to the department. And it’s often taking 18 months to receive a new fire truck, vs one year a year ago, Constantino said.

Meanwhile, LMVFR buildings are aging and need more maintenance and repairs, and “all those costs have increased,” Constantino said. “Our fundraising helps offset our operational expenses that the county does not fully fund, as well as the building repair and improvements that are constantly needed,” Lye said.

And it doesn’t look like getting better anytime soon, Constantino said: “The future is very uncertain.”

But the requirements for new equipment, most of which are financed by donations, continue. The Lake Monticello Volunteer Rescue Squad recently bought a new Road Rescue Ultramedic Type 1 ambulance with many nice features such as a front and rear liquid spring suspension system and LED Lighting.

Residents can contribute to Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire & Rescue’s annual fund drive via its Facebook page or by mailing a check to LMVFR, 10 Slice Road, Palmyra, Va. 22963.

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