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Recruiting drive brings increase in applicants for Spotsylvania volunteer fire and rescue organizations
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Volunteer fire and rescue departments in Spotsylvania County appear to have benefited--at least in the short term--from a $36,000 recruitment drive.
The agencies have had 60 people apply or join since the start of the campaign on June 30 through September--almost double the number in the first half of the year. Fire Chief Chris Eudailey said a few new members applied before the campaign.
The Board of Supervisors voted to fund the campaign from reserves earlier this year, and $32,000 has been spent to date. The effort has included newspaper advertisements, radio spots and signs at busy intersections.
Supervisor Paul Trampe said he'd be willing to invest in another campaign if needed. "As $36,000 wouldn't even cover the salary of one paid firefighter for a year, and three or four active volunteers can cover the hours of a full-time firefighter, I definitely feel the county is getting its money's worth in this recruitment effort," he wrote in an email.
The county pays up to $2,500 to equip a volunteer and also pays per diems. Eudailey said the training cost varies, but he didn't provide figures. The cost of a career firefighter's salary and benefits is about $70,000.
In March, county supervisors approved a plan to hire 55 fire and rescue employees by January 2014. Some supervisors have said fewer full-time staffers might be hired if more volunteers join.
The county's three volunteer agencies have a total of 250 members, but not all of them staff stations on a regular basis. A Virginia Fire Service report released in January said that Spotsylvania needed 175 more volunteer firefighters.
Paid firefighters have been working an increasing amount of overtime since volunteers stopped manning two stations in August. Chancellor Volunteer Fire and Rescue previously tried to cover stations at Salem Church and Salem Fields on nights and weekends, but did not have enough people.
Spotsylvania is on pace to spend up to $1.8 million in overtime for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2013.
Mark Kuechler, an assistant chief with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Fire Department, said he hopes the county invests more money in finding volunteers.
"You can't survive just on word of mouth," said Kuechler, who is also a member of the Fire and EMS Commission. "In my opinion, it was money well spent."
The Spotsylvania County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management was selected last October for a yearlong, federally funded recruitment campaign called "Everyday Heroes." The department was one of 10 in the state chosen to participate in a geographical information systems study to help locate the best candidates for volunteer service.