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Proposal would give financial incentives to volunteer fire, rescue crews
September 12, 2007 - Daily Press

Jon Cawley

Volunteer fire and rescue crewmembers could realize financial benefits for their service if proposed legislation proves successful.

A state senator's proposal to provide financial compensation for Virginia's volunteer fire and rescue workers was welcomed by some Middle Peninsula officials who say they struggle to maintain their ranks.

Sen. Nick Rerras, R-Norfolk, singled out Mathews County in announcing he would propose legislation in the General Assembly's next term to provide incentives to firefighters and rescue personnel in an effort to help recruit and retain the volunteers.

Rural communities seldom employ full-time fire and rescue crews and instead rely on volunteers who frequently also hold full-time jobs in other professions.

The suggested legislation would include a $3,000 state tax deduction for volunteer fire and emergency rescue service personnel and reimbursement for state-required training and certifications.

Rerras - whose 6th District includes all of Accomack, Mathews and Northampton counties and part of Norfolk and Virginia Beach - is vice chairman of a joint subcommittee that first met in July to develop incentives. As needs are uncovered, additional aid could be included in the public safety package Rerras plans to introduce in January, said Alicia Collins, a Rerras spokeswoman.

"He put his finger on a chronic problem all volunteer rescue squads have around Virginia," said David Burns, the Mathews County emergency services director and treasurer of the Mathews Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Burns was particularly encouraged by the possibility of reimbursement for state-required training because Mathews rescue workers pay for that out-of-pocket, he said.

"It's in the neighborhood of $2,500 to $3,000 for EMT intermediate training - that's not even a paramedic," Burns said. Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Joe Fary said recruiting medically trained workers has been particularly difficult due to extensive state requirements. Fary's 150-member department's current budget exceeds $15,000 for training, he said.

"And that doesn't meet the total goal. That part of the proposal would be readily acceptable by any organization in the state," Fary said.

The men suggested some state requirements should be reworked.

"It's a two-edged sword," Fary said. "We want people trained to the max but how much can they take?"

Nick Rerras for VA State Senate
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