Town backs volunteer fire fighters

An impassioned plea from Richmond County’s fire chief last Thursday swayed Warsaw officials toward bolstering the town’s annual donation to the volunteer firefighters.

On May 9, Fire Chief Randy Passagaluppi approached Warsaw Town Council about allocating $12,500 to the Richmond County Volunteer Fire Department (RCVFD) for fiscal year 2014.

Passagaluppi’s presentation was a response to the Warsaw Finance Committee recommending that the town level its yearly donation at $7,500 instead of increasing the amount, which the fire department had requested.

At the time, Town Manager John Slusser noted that the additional contribution was not a significant amount of money. He did, however, express his concern over raising town taxes for a function that Warsaw residents were already paying for through the county.

“The argument can be made [that] through town and county taxes, town residents pay a disproportionate share of the expense,” Slusser added during the committee meeting.

But Passagaluppi stressed that while the town’s present donation greatly benefited the fire department over the years, operation costs have swelled.

He said his department’s additional request was due mainly to the pending replacement of a 1985 fire engine in Newland, adding that the fire truck in question has several safety issues, including open rear seating.

“Firemen are seated in the back of the truck [with] a roof over them, but no doors,” said Passagaluppi. “So [they’re] facing the outside elements, [and in] the event of a rollover, they could be thrown from the truck.”

Passagaluppi noted that that the National Fire Protection Agency recommends a ladder truck replacement every 20 to 25 years, and that a used fire engine with low mileage would cost the fire department approximately $200,000.

Passagaluppi added that, of the 378 service calls RCVFD responded to last year, 91 came from within Warsaw Town Limits.

“There were two house fires within the town and one of those sadly claimed a life,” said Passagaluppi, adding that the fire engine in Newland could at any time be used in Warsaw in the event of a fire.

Other notable expenses that Passagaluppi shared with council included over $25,000 annually in insurance, an $8,000 thermal engine camera that allows firefighters to see fires through walls and find victims in smoke-filled rooms, portable radios that cost $800 each, pagers for receiving calls that every firefighter carries at $425 per person, foam for killing deep-seeded fires at $90 per five-gallon bucket and turnout gear that amounts to $2,250 for each individual.

The gear, Passagaluppi said, lasts only 10 years and consists of gloves, helmets, coats, pants and boots.

“We’re trying to stagger our gear over a number of years so we’re not buying [lots] of sets at one time,” Passagaluppi said.

“We’re trying to be conscious of the money and how we spend it,” he added. “This isn’t our money. It’s the county’s money, and it’s the citizen’s money.”

When asked by Vice Mayor Paul Yackel about his sources of funding, Passagaluppi replied that a majority of RCVFD’s operating budget consisted of $90,000 from the county, which also set aside $30,000 for the fire squad’s vehicle replacement fund.

“I’ve asked [the Richmond County Board of Supervisors] for an increase in that this year,” said Passagaluppi. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to come forward for us.”

He also said that the next biggest source of funding for the fire department consisted of a fund drive to which county citizens contributed.

“They’ve been overwhelmingly generous, more than I can ever imagine in the growing economic times that we face,” said Passagaluppi, who added that supplementary sources included $22,000 in Fire Programs money from the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as the town’s donation.

Passagaluppi said RCVFD currently has 62 members, including nine seniors who will be graduating from Rappahannock High School in June.

Members of council voiced their support for the volunteer department after they learned of the growing costs that were involved in operating the organization.

Councilmember Randy Phelps said that while $12,500 was “a lot of money,” he favored increasing the amount.

“That’s going to give a vote of confidence and a ‘thank’ you to keep them doing what they’re doing, and if it helps buy a couple of pieces of turnout gear, so be it,” said Phelps.

Councilmember Ralph Self, a former firefighter with the volunteer fire department, commended the members of RCVFD for their services.

“I certainly would be behind anything we can do to help,” said Self.

Councilmember Wendi Nesbit said she was “truly humbled” by the workings of the fire department and the cost of their operations.

“I appreciate everything they do,” said Nesbit.

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 9:16 am