A rough assessment of what the county gets for its $9.6 million investment in volunteer fire and rescue companies has turned up an estimated $27.7 million in value based on working hours, operations and ancillary activities.
And even that, said supervisors and county budget staff, doesn’t take into account the other inherent value volunteers bring to the system, such as filling in during surges, canteen service, and chaplain services.
That comes in the form of covering a minimum of 84 12-hour shifts—often more; owning their stations; and costs like buying ambulances and fire engines.
The report was made at the request of finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
Budget staff member cautioned the number is not meant to be a financial or budget assessment—it cannot, for example, be used to accurately calculate how many cents off the tax rate volunteers save Loudoun taxpayers. It is also a rough estimate for those things it does measure—it does not take into account, for example, the money the county spends to help purchase equipment for the volunteer companies.
But Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said there’s no doubt the volunteers have an effect. And he mentioned a problem the fire-rescue system has been grappling with for years:
“Recruitment and retention is a challenge,” Buona said. “It’s becoming more of a challenge all the time, especially during the day. People have day jobs now. It’s very different recruiting volunteers today and retaining them than it was 20 years ago.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said it’s an “interesting exercise” to try to put a value on the volunteer system.
“But then you think, what’s the cost for a 7-year-old who gets to spend time at a pancake breakfast with a volunteer firefighter?” Randall said.