Volunteer fire departments receive state grant

By Katie Demeria

Several local volunteer fire departments received grants from the Virginia Department of Forestry, allowing the firefighters to combat the lack of funding they usually face.

According to a VDOF news release, Strasburg, Woodstock and Edinburg fire departments in Shenandoah County each received $1,500 in grants, while Rivermont Fire Department in Warren County received $1,000.

Woodstock Fire Department’s Captain Phil Hottel said the department has received a grant from the department every year for the past 10 years. It helps them pay for vital equipment, which they otherwise would have had to raise donations to afford.

Jeff Wharton, Strasburg Fire Department’s chief, on the other hand, said Strasburg has applied for the grant several times but has only received it a few times.

“It’s good for our department,” Wharton said. “We’re trying to upgrade some of our equipment. What we have now is horrible — we’re just trying to move along with it.”

Hottel said they usually use the grant to pay for Class A foam.

“It helps extinguish the fire much easier and it also keeps it from reigniting,” he said. “It’s not something new, but it’s something we’ve used for a long time and used it successfully. It helps quite a bite, but it is quite expensive.”

Both Hottel and Wharton said their departments apply for several grants every year, but do not get as many as they would like. So far, Hottel said VDOF’s grant is the only one they have received, and he is not very hopeful they will be approved for any others.

Hottel pointed out that it is a very competitive grant — every department in the state can apply for it — and the department cannot depend on it returning every year.

Woodstock and Strasburg operate largely on community donations.

“I’d say about 80 percent of our funds come from the community,” Wharton said. “It’s slowed down a lot over the years. It’s probably down, I would say, at least 40 or 50 percent.”

Wharton attributed that decrease to a poor economy. Fewer people have money they are able to donate, he said.

The department does fundraisers throughout the year, but it is not enough to upgrade all their equipment.

“We’re working with 1980s equipment,” he said. “Our frontline piece of equipment is a 1985. It’s almost 30 years old.”

Updating the engine, he added, would cost the department $500,000, and would not be available until 2015.

“And that’s just a standard, basic fire truck, that’s not with any extra bells and whistles that you’d like to have, like air conditioning,” Wharton said.

He said receiving grants whenever possible is always appreciated, and will help them work even more efficiently.

“It’s going to go to great use for the community, and will make our jobs a whole lot easier than what we’re doing right now,” he said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com