By Terry Rogers
Delaware faced large budget deficits for 2017 and in order to balance the state budget, legislators were forced to make many cuts in funding. Volunteer fire companies, including Carlisle Fire Company, saw a 20 percent cut in funding from the state. State funding for fire companies is equally distributed among all companies. However, Ryan Knowles of Carlisle Fire Company said that company’s finance committee was able to prepare for the cuts and there has been no reduction in service for the community.
“Funding cuts will never effect how Carlisle responds to emergencies,” Knowles said. “Apparatus and equipment purchasing would have to be prolonged to use longer than what we normally do, but it will never effect our performance. The Finance Committee of the Carlisle Fire Company does a fantastic job of creating a budget each year that the membership adheres to strictly. We always stay well under the allotted amounts. They also do a great job with investing monies saved each year with various financial institutions so members many years from now will still have an ample amount of money to operate for the community.” Knowles explained that Carlisle is a “need purchase” company and that they do not simply buy equipment because they want it.
As for volunteer training, Knowles said that the company budget includes funding for necessary training, especially for new members. If gear needs to be replaced because of damage or age, the company also budgets for those expenses each year, usually remaining below the budget limits each year. Like all volunteer fire companies, Carlisle is finding it difficult to find volunteers. Some of this is due to the amount of time required to become a firefighter.
“Each member spends an average of 240 hours of training to become a full fire fighter capable of responding to each emergency,” Knowles said. “That does not include emergency medical training. Fire school hours are only eight hours, so that is thirty days of training and it is only offered on weekends. We cannot predict if or when this will effect the fire service, but we will continue to provide the best volunteer service possible to the citizens of Milford that we can.”
There have been suggestions that Carlisle and other companies hire paid staff members in order to better provide protection. Currently, the only companies that have paid firefighters in Delaware are Wilmington and Dover Air Force Base. Some companies, like Carlisle and Seaford, do have paid staff that are trained EMTs, but those staff do not run fire calls.
“We do advertise for firefighters, but that is in addition to their primary role as EMT,” Rick Stewart, President of Seaford Fire Company said. “Our employees work 24-hour shifts, so we do have 24-hour coverage but not for fire service as not all of our employees are qualified to fulfill the firefighting role. That is still primarily volunteer. We have 10 full-time employees that provide coverage for EMS who have covered 4,000 ambulance runs this year.” Mr. Knowles says that this is similar to what Milford’s paid volunteer staff handles, although they work daytime hours as EMTs and there are no paid 24 hour staff.
In 2016, Carlisle Fire Company ran 2,675 ambulance calls, the majority of which were during the work day when it is difficult for volunteers to respond. That same year, they ran 505 fire calls, all of which were covered by volunteer members.
“If Carlisle had to staff their station with full-time firefighters, tax increases for citizens would rise, causing even more of a financial burden on some of our already struggling citizens,” Knowles said. According to estimates, hiring full-time firefighters would increase the state budget by $184 million for salaries, equipment and insurance. In addition, many volunteer companies do not have living quarters for 24-hour shifts, so the state could be required to provide additional funding to bring the buildings compliant. All of this could increase property taxes almost $9 per $1,000 in assessed value.
Carlisle is addressing the volunteer shortage by increasing advertising efforts and encouraging young people to volunteer. Mr. Knowles said that one way that the company meets funding issues is through grants and that the state budget adjustments did not affect those. “Most of the grants that Carlisle applies for are federally funded,” Knowles said. “They are not affected by anything that occurs in Delaware legislation.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for Carlisle Fire Company should contact the station at 302-422-8001. Knowles said that the company has many different positions available, including firefighters, EMTs, fire police and more.
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