Workgroup Report: More Funding Needed for Local Fire, EMS in Virginia

This report was originally covered by VPM.

In House Bill 2175, the General Assembly mandated the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to form a collaborative workgroup to study primarily local fire service in Virginia. Their report also contains important findings about emergency medical services (EMS).

"...the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security (the Secretary) shall establish a work study existing fire service needs, analyze sustainability of current funding, an review alternative funding models from other states. In conducting its study, the work group may hire an outside consultant and shall create a needs assessment survey that analyzes existing fire service needs the sustainability of current funding, any gaps in current funding, how other states fund fire and EMS services, and best practices from other states."

The quote below from the report highlights many of the causes faced by fire and EMS organizations — a decline in volunteer participation.

"The survey found that 91% of respondents reported a decrease in volunteer fire and EMS providers over the past three years. Most localities stated that citizens’ financial constraints, employment policies, and a decreasing interest by younger generations were major contributors to the significant decline in volunteers."

The report makes a series of recommendations, key among them direct state funding to local fire and EMS departments. Currently, local sheriff’s deputies are funded consistent with a formula in the Virginia state code. Using largely the same methodology, the authors conclude providing a similar level of funding for fire and EMS would cost $250 million annually.

Screenshot via report: requested vs. awarded funding from the Rescue Squad Assistance Fund (p. 17).

In terms of funding, the workgroup recommends raising the current 1% insurance surcharge on fire, casualty, marine, homeowners, and farm owners premiums. The General Assembly set the rate in 1995, and it has remained unchanged. The workgroup also recommends expanding the allowable expenses among state aid to counties for public safety spending, like facilities and personnel.

Currently, $6.25 of vehicle registration fees in Virginia are earmarked for EMS use. The workgroup suggests roughly $2 of the fee is used for other purposes, and the full $6.25 should be restricted for EMS.

Some key quotes from the seven recommendations are outlined below.

(1) “The Virginia General Assembly should consider the funding of dedicated staffing for fire and EMS in localities.”
(2) “The HB 2175 Workgroup recommends that the General Assembly increase the
surcharge on insurance premiums for the Fire Programs Fund and loosen restrictions
on the use of funds.”
(3) "The HB 2175 Workgroup advocates that the $2, currently directed to the General
Fund, be channeled back to the Office of EMS to better align with its original
intended purpose."
(4) "The HB 2175 Workgroup recommends that the General Assembly create a staffing
grant program similar to SAFER that would be funded by either the General Fund or
an increase to the Fire Programs Fund."
(5) "The HB 2175 Workgroup recommends that the General Assembly create a low-interest loan program similar to those outlined above that would be funded by the
General Fund and future interest payments in the program."
(6) "The HB 2175 Workgroup recommends that the Virginia Department of Fire Programs and the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Medical Services work with the Department of General Services to establish statewide contracts for fire and EMS apparatus and equipment where appropriate."
(7) "The HB 2175 Workgroup recommends that the General Assembly continue to
research fire and EMS funding through the following options."
View Full Report (PDF)