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Randolph firefighters facing funding dilemma

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

ELKINS -- Finding adequate funding is a universal problem for volunteer fire departments.

Despite receiving state and sometimes county money, many department officials still find themselves scrambling to pay the bills each year.

In Randolph County, officials from the county's 10 departments that receive county funding have asked commissioners to consider bumping up their contribution. Each of the 10 departments used to get $13,500, but that figure was slashed to $10,000 for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, said County Commission President Willard Herron.

One department chief says that other funding problems exist for the volunteer crews. Firefighters are not getting paid when assisting ambulance crews, but they are being charged by those same crews when a firefighter is injured, said Valley Head Chief Lyle Ware.

"They charge us when they have to take the ambulance out of the building, and when we go out it costs us money, too," Ware said Tuesday.

Ware said no decision had been made by the county's firefighters about possibly charging the ambulance services. He also said something needs to be worked out between the two emergency groups.

Other chiefs were surprised by Ware's comments about charging a fee.

"I think this has all gotten overblown," said Tygart Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Shaffer. "We need the squad as much as they need us. We all just need to work together to make our community a better place."

While the Randolph County Firefighter's Association is meeting Thursday evening, Shaffer said he was not aware of any agenda item relating to charging a fee.

Association Secretary Randall Snider was not available for comment Tuesday.

Coalton Fire Chief Mack George said that underfunding was a problem faced by not only volunteer fire departments but also ambulance services and the county Emergency Medical Squad.

Both George and Shaffer said that charging a fee for assisting ambulance crews was not the answer to funding issues.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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