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Reproduced from The Culpeper Star Exponent (http://www2.starexponent.com).

By Nate Delesline
Published: January 27, 2011

Culpeper’s eight volunteer fire and rescue companies are meeting and exceeding the community’s public safety expectations, but they’re in need of funding and more volunteer support to maintain the status quo.

“The system is working, the citizens needs are being met,” Culpeper County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Anthony Clatterbuck said Saturday. “No system is perfect, but we’re in better shape than we’ve been in a long time. We’ve got a lot to be proud of for what’s going on right now.”

Clatterbuck shared his remarks at a public safety summit, a gathering of the area’s full-time and volunteer public safety workers, along with about a half-dozen elected officials.

About 30 people attended the event overall. The fire and rescue association serves as a single point of representation to the town and county for the area’s volunteer emergency worker corps.

“We can tell each other the truth,” Clatterbuck said about the relationship between the member agencies. “No one is worried about the repercussions because we’ve got each other’s back.”

Without the continued financial support of the county however, Clatterbuck said the age of the volunteer emergency response organization could become history.

“We know we’re in a budget crisis and an economic crisis,” Clatterbuck said, “But we’re at the point where it’s financial cancer. You don’t know you’re sick until you’re about to die. “We don’t want to develop stage three or stage four.

“If you want to preserve this system, you’re going to have to make a decision,” Clatterbuck said, referring to the elected leaders at the meeting. “We’re just going to need more help. We’ve had some tough times lately. We’ve gone almost to complete failure of departments. So it’s important that our departments don’t further degrade.”

Culpeper has 300 primary volunteers and 300 auxiliary and support members ready to go into action to help the community. Clatterbuck valued the assets of the volunteer companies at $27 million in equipment and facilities.

Clatterbuck said several elements are contributing to the situation. They include the extremely high cost of replacing rescue equipment, high call volumes, increased training requirements mandated by the state and member burnout.

He said Co. 1 is facing a $1 million price tag for a long overdue replacement for a 1974 model aerial truck, which happens to be the only vehicle of its type in the county. As another example, Clatterbuck, who is also president of Co. 16, said that in 1999, an ambulance cost $85,000. Now, replacing and equipping a similar vehicle can cost upwards of $175,000.

Following Clatterbuck’s remarks, leaders went around the room to share their perspective on the situation.

Tom Williams, head of the county’s office of emergency management, expressed frustration with the ever-increasing state mandated requirements.

“It saddens me that we see our commonwealth moving everything towards college level in EMS,” Williams said. “By 2014, EMT classes may have to be done through a college program. That to me spells the end of volunteerism and I don’t want to see that happen.”

Supervisor Sue Hansohn agreed. “I don’t want to see us going to paid fire and rescue totally—we just can’t afford that.”

Culpeper County Sheriff Jim Branch conveyed to the group that deputies on the road regard the volunteer groups very highly and expressed optimism that the challenges would be overcome.

“I certainly hope that among us all, that we can work on the answers to the problems we face,” Branch said.

Although updated revenue projections are still pending, County Administrator Frank Bossio said it’s possible that the county may face an overall shortfall of up to $3 million for the coming budget year.