Rescue cuts detailed

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, June 2, 2010

City officials have cut funding in half for the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad because they will be paying for some of its expenses through other funds, they say.

In a presentation Wednesday night, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Chief Mark Outlaw said the fire department will be paying for about $48,000 in supplies, equipment and training for the volunteers with money in the regular fire department budget.

“Based on that information, I believe $50,000 should be adequate for them,” Outlaw said. “It’s not that we’re cutting the funds, the city is covering those funds.”

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In addition, the fire department will move ambulance staff from Nansemond-Suffolk’s building to Fire Station No. 1 this summer, saving vehicle and operating costs for the squad, Outlaw said.

The presentation at a regular City Council meeting was a surprise to at least three officers of the squad, who said nobody with the city informed them their funding would be discussed at the meeting.

Volunteer Chief G.W. Willman said he was unsure of what further documentation the city needed that was not provided.

“I’m not sure what documentation we didn’t provide,” Willman said, adding that he had not been told the fire department would pay for supplies and equipment out of its own budget. “That’s been discussed, but it was news to me that they were going to be paying for it.”

The city has been working with the squad to identify ways to reduce expenditures and eliminate duplicated funding, Outlaw said. Volunteer Deputy Chief Rusty Hundley said the squad has been cutting funding for years, and has done so even more recently.

“We’re always trying to find a way to save a dollar, because we just don’t have them,” Hundley said. “We’ve been doing everything that we can do in-house.”

Hundley said a squad member now does all maintenance on the squad’s vehicles, and charges only for the cost of parts. The squad constantly shops insurance policies to get the best rates, and used volunteer labor to do needed renovations to its 45-year-old Market Street building this year.

The squad was forced to take out a loan last year to cover its expenses after the city allocated $100,000 for the rescue squad, but gave it only $80,000. Hundley has said he fears the squad, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, will be forced to fold if it does not receive $100,000 in the coming fiscal year.

Outlaw said in his presentation Wednesday that city public safety operations will not be affected if the squad shuts down.

“I hope that doesn’t happen, but I think it’s important to clarify what would happen,” Outlaw said.

If the squad closes shop, Outlaw said, firefighters staffing an ambulance at Station 1 would cover the area the volunteers now cover. No city positions or equipment would need to be added, he said, because staffing for the Nansemond-Suffolk ambulance is currently provided on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Volunteers cover evenings and weekends.

If the volunteer squad is forced to disband, Hundley said, he would like to see its equipment donated to area volunteer squads, and proceeds from the sale of the building also donated to those squads, if legally plausible. However, that decision would have to be made by the organization as a whole.

“That’s my opinion,” he said. “That’s not the agency’s position because we haven’t had that discussion.”

Immediately following Outlaw’s presentation, no City Council member had any questions or comments. However, Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer added his input later.

“I’ve been approached several times about the public safety being shortchanged,” he said. “It does not appear in the report that is 100 percent correct.”

Hundley, who did not attend the meeting because he is out of town, said only that he is “sorry they see it that way.”