Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

HJR 743: Joint Subcommittee Studying Incentives for Fire & Rescue Squad Volunteers

August 23, 2007

Chairman Tom Rust opened the second meeting of the joint subcommittee studying incentives for fire and rescue squad volunteers by welcoming everyone and reviewing the agenda. Guest speakers included representatives from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP), the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS), Virginia Municipal League (VML), Virginia Association of Counties (VACo), as well as Dr. Kenneth B. Perkins from Longwood.


Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP)
W. G. Shelton, Executive Director of VDFP, described the agency's role in providing fire and emergency services support to communities throughout the Commonwealth. Some of the many VDFP services are financial assistance to communities and organizations; professional development and training programs for emergency responders; public fire and life safety education; research, analysis, and information reporting; operational support to communities during emergencies; advocacy and promotion of best practices; and technical assistance through expertise and consultation.

VDFP revenues are generated from one percent of the gross income of fire-related insurance premiums, with 75% going directly to counties, cities, and towns as aid to localities and 25% going to training and administration. Mr. Shelton discussed four possible incentives to increase the number of volunteers:

  • Free local decal for volunteers for one vehicle.
  • Personal property tax exemption for one vehicle.
  • State tax incentives for volunteers.
  • Funding the Volunteer Firefighters' and Rescue Squad Workers' Service Award Program Fund (VOLSAP).

Office of Emergency Medical Services
Speakers on behalf of the Office of Emergency Medical Services were Gary Brown, Director; Scott Winston, Assistant Director; Warren Short, Training Manager; and Rohn Brown, Technical Assistance Coordinator. Since the 2004 JLARC Review of Emergency Medical Services in Virginia Report was published, OEMS has evaluated and addressed many of the issues raised in the report, such as why volunteers leave the emergency medical services field, which include personal conflicts, lack of time to volunteer, as well as poor management and leadership. With the population aged 65 and older in Virginia growing, there is an increased need for emergency medical services. With volunteers making up 51% of all certified fire personnel and EMS providers, agencies cannot afford to lose volunteers. OEMS is responsible for certifying and re-certifying all Virginia EMS providers. The agency has been working on a number of volunteer retention programs and created the Keeping The Best! Retention Toolkit for use by Virginia's EMS agencies. OEMS supports the creation of flexible and creative approaches to increase retention by offering technical assistance through the EMS Workforce Development Committee, an on-line recruitment directory, and the agency's Christopher Reeve Recruitment Campaign. OEMS financial assistance provides leadership and management training, advertising, and signs and recruitment materials.

OEMS representatives offered three recommendations for consideration by the members:

  • Legislation to ensure that localities have the powers and duty to develop a written emergency response plan in the event the local EMS agency disbands so that local emergency services will remain available.
  • Reallocation of funds directly to localities from the Virginia State Police Med-Flight program for incentives to recruit and retain volunteer EMS personnel.
  • Legislation to waive or reduce fees for students in a Virginia Community College EMS program who become state certified and affiliated with a licensed EMS agency.

Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties
Larry Palmore, Town Manager of Blackstone, spoke on behalf of the VML and Chief Ken Brown of the Goochland County Fire and Rescue Department spoke on behalf of VACo. Each of the representatives supported the consensus of speakers from the first meeting of the joint subcommittee in July, reiterating that retention and recruitment are serious issues, as is leadership. They noted that any help the members could provide would be greatly appreciated and emphasized how important it is for the General Assembly to appropriate some amount of money to VOLSAP, which is administered by the VRS.

Dr. Kenneth B. Perkins, Longwood University
The final speaker was Dr. Kenneth Perkins, Special Assistant to the President for Longwood University. Dr. Perkins' field is sociology and over the years he has done extensive research related to volunteer fire and rescue squad departments, and he is a longtime member of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department.

Dr. Perkins' research indicates that Americans love to form and participate in volunteer assistance services. Fire and rescue squads differ from one another in that rescue squads have a lot more "sick" calls that are not true emergencies. These calls create fatigue and burnout for many volunteers. The time demands are significant for many EMS volunteers, which is of great concern to Virginia's localities, particularly in rural areas. Dr. Perkins remarked that it should not be assumed that volunteerism is dying out; however, recruitment and retention can be a great problem.

In some localities, volunteer squads have difficulty recruiting what they call "come heres," new residents that move into an area. Recruitment difficulties may also stem from inadequate leadership and a volunteer organization's internal politics. He offered several ideas for the members’ consideration, including:

  • Educate the populace to not use 911 for "sick" calls.
  • Assist with a public awareness campaign at the local level.
  • Promote and support leadership training programs for volunteer organizations.
  • Compensate volunteers for EMS training.
  • Provide a modest stipend/retirement pay for volunteers.

Dr. Perkins added that any investment made at the state or local level to increase volunteer retention would be well worth the money saved each year on the cost of providing emergency services.

Public Comment
Three citizens briefly addressed the subcommittee. One was a volunteer rescue squad member, one was a volunteer firefighter, and one was a lobbyist. Each of the speakers spoke of the important role that volunteer firemen and rescue squad members play in their localities, and they asked the joint subcommittee to help provide the means to educate the community and to fund VOLSAP.

Next Meeting
The next meeting is scheduled for September 24, at which time, the joint subcommittee will hear from Scott Kezmen, an attorney in Virginia Beach, who will discuss the Benshoff FLSA test. The members will also discuss possible legislation.

The Hon. Thomas D. Rust

For information, contact:
Joan Putney, Amigo Wade, DLS Staff


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

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