Volunteer squad facing budget shortfall

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2002

Sharp chest pains accompanied by shortness of breath – call 911.

The Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad (NSVRS) responded to almost 7,500 emergency calls last year, despite a current $220,000 funding shortfall. Suffolk’s abounding residential growth has forced the volunteer squad to step up efforts to generate operating revenues; however, a recent policy interpretation by the city has deleted the squad’s primary funding mechanism.

Annually, NSVRS volunteers armed with buckets hit Suffolk’s streets, soliciting motorists for donations. Whether coins or dollar bills, drivers seemingly were prepared at a moment’s notice to pitch in to help the worthy cause. So much so that each street campaign typically generated as much as $10,000, according to Rusty Hunley, the NSVRS chief of operations.

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Suffolk city spokeswoman Dana M. Woodson explained that because state code does not allow organizations to use public streets to solicit for funds, the city must comply in not allowing any groups or individuals to raise money this way.

&uot;We have to follow state code and uphold the law,&uot; Woodson added. &uot;We must keep it consistent. The bottom line is that state code does not allow people or organizations to impede traffic&uot; for fundraisers.

Now for the first time, the NSVRS must make do without the almost $20,000 per year it traditionally yields from the street campaigns. But this is not the only contributing factor to the NSVRS’ funding dilemma. Not unlike other volunteer organizations supported primarily by donations, the outpouring of generosity after 9/11 has diverted money to other linked causes.

&uot;It’s been a combination of things like every other organization,&uot; explained Hunley. &uot;It’s becoming more and more difficult to operate. We may possibly have to borrow funds.&uot; He added that newcomers to the city aren’t necessarily aware of how the NSVRS survives; therefore, there’s a need for more public education.

February mailings requesting donations also fell short of NSVRS’ goal.

&uot;We are very appreciative of the support from people who’ve been here awhile,&uot; said Hunley, &uot;but we need to get the word out that we are a volunteer rescue squad and we do not charge for services while we provide the same level of services&uot; as non-volunteer units.

NSVRS employs a limited number of career personnel housed at stations in Bennett’s Creek, Chuckatuck, Holland, and White Marsh. The city contributes about $115,000 annually for emergency services, and the state funnels approximately $25,000 per year from funds generated from license plate decals.

Hunley stated that it would take $1.5 million annually to fully fund the NSVRS, as budget shortfalls continue to stretch existing funding very thin while providing high-caliber professional emergency response. Unlike many cities, Suffolk residents have not experienced receiving a bill in the mail for rescue services, he said.

In 1975, the NSVRS became the second all-volunteer advanced life support program in the nation. Virginia Beach was the first. Today, NSVRS boasts 85 members that work in partnership with the Suffolk Fire Department.

&uot;We have a very good system that serves the community well,&uot; said Hunley. &uot;Our residents never get a $200-$300 bill for services.&uot;

In 1927, Roanoke became the first city in the country to organize a volunteer rescue squad. Since that time, volunteer units have become commonplace in Virginia. Today, most states continue to operate with the assistance of volunteer emergency response resources.

Hunley is hoping that the Suffolk community will continue supporting them, and that new residents will also get on the bandwagon. Contributions can be mailed to NSVRS, Post Office Box 1515, Suffolk, Va. 23439.