Magazine article Public Management

Helping Fire Departments Make the Case for Community Funding

Magazine article Public Management

Helping Fire Departments Make the Case for Community Funding

Article excerpt

The National Volunteer Fire Council Foundation's (NVFC) Cost Savings Calculator is a new analytical tool that helps volunteer and combination fire departments show the true value of their services to the community. Armed with these figures, fire companies not only can educate elected officials on the value their departments bring to the community, they also can show how many resources would need to be borne by local and regional governments in their absence.

Patrick Hlavaty, a 25-year member and current president of the El Campo, Texas, Volunteer Fire Department, helped encourage El Campo town officials to fund the operations of a new fire training facility. The 56-member volunteer company decided to build its new training facility on previously donated land immediately adjacent to the 14,000-resident town, which is located near the Gulf of Mexico some 75 miles southwest of Houston.

Total funding for the facility topped $1.3 million. Just over $400,000 came from grants from regional not-for-profit foundations and from a federal grant covering the equipment to be used in the training facility. Additional dollars were raised through direct fundraising conducted by the fire department.

El Campo's four banks came through with the balance in the form of loans, which are being repaid in part from rural fire tax revenues as well as registration fees collected from fire fighters who go through the training program.

What remained for Hlavaty was finding the funds to operate and maintain the facility--including sewer and water service--an amount expected to be about $20,000 to $30,000 annually. That's when the fire department approached the city of El Campo with a request for help.

TURNING DOUBTERS INTO DELIVERERS

At first, the El Campo VFD faced resistance, partly because the proposed facility would be located just outside the city limits. "We tried to explain that the training facility would benefit not only those of us in the immediate vicinity but also the seven other fire departments in Wharton County, as well as departments in neighboring counties," Hlavaty noted.

"Instead of sending our firefighters away for training and incurring all of the travel and lodging expenses, our members could now train locally. Unfortunately, that argument alone wasn't persuasive enough," he added.

To strengthen his case, Hlavaty downloaded the free Cost Savings Calculator from the NVFC Web site and filled out the information that would show how much funding the El Campo VFD saves the city because of its volunteer firefighters and EMS providers. In the case of El Campo, the analysis revealed that the department saves the town approximately $1.5 million per year in operating costs.

SIMPLE ARITHMETIC

According to Hlavaty, it was easy to fill out the calculator form. …

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