WOODSTOCK — The Shenandoah County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association is looking for volunteers and donations to help in their continued community support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus has forced the cancellation of most area fundraisers, said Zachary Hottel, a lieutenant with the Woodstock Fire Department.
Events that usually would have brought in donations or increased recognition of the association’s presence in the community include spring flings, summer bashes, carnivals, fire hall rentals, BINGO nights, dinners and demolition derbies.
Recruitment events also have been canceled over the last several months, as well as fire prevention discussions, public safety classes and other outreach at schools.
At a county Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 25, Shenandoah County Fire & Rescue Chief Tim Williams spoke of the impact that the pandemic has had on area agencies and their ability to raise funds.
“One thing that you have to keep in mind: when they suffer, the career side of the house also suffers because the very facilities that they maintain, the very apparatus that they’re buying and using, the very equipment that they’re provided is utilized by both sides of the house,” he said. “We’re using their stuff every day, so that has had an impact on these folks and any financial help that they could get would be appreciated.
“They also have seen fewer operational responders,” Williams continued.
Since some area localities have put restrictions on full-time personnel during the pandemic to reduce the risk of their contracting the coronavirus, he said that limits their availability to volunteer at a time when volunteers in an older, at-risk age group are also less available to respond to calls.
This especially affects Fort Valley, he said.
“A number of their EMS providers are in the at-risk age group, so it has had an impact on us,” said Williams. “Increasing call volumes specifically to our nursing facilities, they have absolutely been the hardest hit with coronavirus, and answering those calls back-to-back has been tough.”
These problems are not exclusive to Shenandoah County, said Gerald Hawkins, director of the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Company.
“Everybody’s going through the same thing,” he said.
Emergency Medical Services is not an industry that can scale back on coverage around the community. Even without enough funding or volunteers, Hawkins said, “You can’t not help people.”
Anyone interested in volunteering is welcome to contact the county government office, Hottel said.
Various volunteer positions are available, and the county’s 12 volunteer fire and rescue companies can use people of all ages, experience levels and talents to help fill gaps in coverage around the area.
Positions include fundraising, website assistance, EMS providers, drivers and firefighters for interior (black hat) or exterior (red hat) levels.
Some positions require more training, such as a six-month program for interior firefighters.
“They’re a valuable resource, especially when we’re short on black hats,” said Phyllis Fleming, president of the association and a volunteer at the Woodstock Fire Department.
The Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association supports the county’s 12 companies, which comprise four fire departments, two rescue squads and six companies that do both.
Four offer 100% volunteer coverage, Hottel explained. Four provide 24/7 coverage, one has paid staff available 24/7, two have partial coverage and one shares 24/7 coverage with Frederick County.
In a typical year, he explained, volunteers around the county provide 50,000 hours of service to their companies.
Though they received fewer calls in the early days of the pandemic when people were sheltering at home and less inclined to call for medical attention, he said call volume has been closer to normal in recent weeks and also includes COVID-related calls.
Volunteers wear masks and have access to gloves, face shields, eye protection, oxygen, bag valves for giving rescue breaths and full-body coveralls when needed.
Throughout the pandemic, Hottel said, all 12 companies have experienced an average loss of $25,000 (or 25-50%) of their combined annual budgets.
This is largely because of regular fundraising events not happening, but Hottel said it’s also a result of recruitment events not getting out the word that the companies need help.
Volunteers at the Woodstock Fire Department are supplied with personal protective equipment paid for with federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding to implement new cleaning protocols during COVID-19 and maintain the health of volunteers who take their temperatures every day when they arrive for their shift.
CARES Act funds do not reimburse the companies for lost revenue from fundraising efforts being canceled, downsized or pushed online, Hottel said.
Though much has changed for the companies in recent months, Hottel said some online and in-person events have been able to continue, such as meal carryout and curbside pickup, online fundraisers and socially distant boot drives.
The community also has stepped up to provide food and supplies for volunteers, Fleming said.
When COVID-19 started, she said, area residents brought donations of water, disinfectant and snacks to fire and rescue personnel.
“People have been good to us, they really have,” she said.
To volunteer, donate or learn more, contact Melissa Edmondson at email@example.com or call 540-459-6167.