When it comes to a fire company fundraiser, you've probably heard about the carnivals.
And the barbecues, the bingo and, perhaps, the door-to-door solicitations.
But in today's world, the work of raising $450,000 for a new firetruck or $180,000 to $220,000 for a new ambulance, plus tens of thousands of dollars more for special equipment, protective clothing and the like, can take a lot of time and effort.
Here's the likely list of most of the revenue and bulk-rate discount sources for the 27 volunteer fire and rescue companies in Washington County:
County government — A basic operating subsidy of $48,000 a year for each of the 21 companies outside Hagerstown limits, and $24,500 for each of the six companies inside the city. In return, each company is required to give the county a financial report every year.
County government — A special staffing subsidy, ensuring enough personnel to provide 24/7 emergency medical services (EMS) countywide, of from $60,226 to $309,236 currently for each of the eight EMS companies.
In return, in addition to filing its regular annual report, each company is required to turn in to the county Division of Emergency Services (DES) an assessment of patient care and quality assurance, as well as patient care reports showing what treatment was provided and what medical supplies they have gotten from Meritus Medical Center to restock an ambulance after taking patients to the hospital.
The hospital bills DES every month, but before those bills are paid, DES matches the treatment given with the supplies used so if they're billed for a needle, they can see whether a needle was used. The bill isn't paid unless the EMS company has submitted the appropriate report. The county's reimbursement goes to the hospital, not the company.
County government — Reimbursement of whatever money each fire and rescue company paid in its last full budget year for electricity, heating, and water and sewer service at its headquarters. The total reimbursement for utilities is reduced by a flat 5 percent if the fire or rescue company rents any of its space to a business — regardless of square footage. To qualify for the reimbursements, each fire and rescue company must submit all of its utility bills to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, which reviews them and gives the county a report showing the total amount owed each company.
County government — An opportunity to buy fuel for emergency vehicles at any of the county Highway Department fueling stations, at the county's bulk discount rate. According to the county, the "rule of thumb" price differential between the bid prices it gets and at-the-pump prices "is typically 70 cents per gallon of diesel and 30 cents per gallon for unleaded."
In accordance with the countywide EMS staffing plan, the county reimburses EMS companies for the fuel payments for their ambulances, but not for EMS companies' other vehicles. Likewise, the county reimburses the EMS companies for any ambulance maintenance costs, if they submit the bills. But the county doesn't reimburse the fire companies for any vehicle fuel or maintenance costs. As a courtesy, the county sends a reminder to any fire and rescue company buying the county's fuel, whenever mileage records show its vehicles are due for oil replacement or other regular maintenance.
County government — All fire or rescue companies, except one, are buying electricity at the county's bulk rate for their headquarters stations. The exception is in Williamsport, where the town government buys electricity from Potomac Edison on a contract rate for Williamsport, Hagerstown and Thurmont. Williamsport then sells electricity to Williamsport Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services at its municipal rate.
County government — Pays for such coverages as property and casualty insurance for all the fire and rescue companies, for workers compensation insurance for the volunteers, for maintenance contract services for medical devices, and for the Volunteer Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), which is a sort of retirement benefits program for fire and rescue volunteers.
County government — Any of the fire and rescue companies is eligible to apply to borrow money from the county's revolving loan fund to help buy apparatus such as a firetruck or ambulance. The total amount still owed by all of the borrowers, at any time, can't exceed $1 million. The money is taken from the county's cash reserves, meaning the money isn't in a separate account just waiting to be used by fire and rescue companies.
County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association — So far, up to $44,000 in public gaming money a year, for each of its 27 member companies. By Maryland law, the county government must give the association half of the countywide gaming profits collected in the county's gaming fund. In turn, The Herald-Mail has determined, the association keeps 20 percent of its annual fire and rescue share and distributes the rest in equal portions to each of its member companies. State law doesn't require the association to account for how it spends the money. And, the association doesn't require its companies to do so.
Hagerstown government — $3,000 a year is given to each of the six independent volunteer fire companies in the city to help each company maintain its fire station. The city doesn't require the companies to explain how they spend the money. The city also provides paid crews to help staff each of the fire stations. The city also buys all of the fire and ladder trucks, although all of the companies have helped or committed to help the city pay for the big vehicles. In addition, the city allows Community Rescue Service to make a budget request each year to help subsidize its thousands of city ambulance runs, many of which are for city residents who don't have enough insurance to help reimburse CRS. The city gave CRS $45,000 for this for the current budget year.
Maryland government — In recent years, up to about $9,000 a year, has been given to each of the 27 companies through what is called the Sen. William H. Amoss Fire, Rescue, and Ambulance Fund. Often called "508 money" in reference to the number on the State Senate bill that promoted it, the grant can only be used to buy or fix up emergency equipment that costs more than $1,000 and is designed to last for at least a year, or to fix up buildings that house such equipment.
For instance, Community Rescue Service used 508 money about a year ago to buy electronic stretchers that automatically move up or down, reducing strain on the crews' backs and, CRS said, lowers the chance of, for instance, a workers' compensation case.
Each company is required to submit receipts proving to the county Division of Emergency Services (DES) how the grant was spent. The companies are required to keep their 508 money in a separate account and show DES the balance, as money is deposited and spent.
In addition, each company must send data to the volunteer association on every incident to which the company responds. The association, in turn, feeds the information to the Maryland Fire Incident Reporting System. From there, it goes to the National Fire Incident Reporting System at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Maryland government — In recent years, up to $10,000 has been available from the state Department of Natural Resources to help a fire company buy special equipment to fight fires in remote areas. For example, along the C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail or in wildlands, there can be needs for brush trucks or other special firefighting equipment, including water tanks that firefighters can carry.
Federal government — The Federal Emergency Management Agency, through an application process, has provided tens of thousands of dollars to companies here to buy a firetruck and/or other large equipment.
Private gaming — Each fire and rescue company can obtain a license from the county Gaming Office to sell tip jars and to host bingo games. The county doesn't require any financial reporting for bingo. As for tip jars, which are numbered tickets that can win cash, every jar that a seller buys from the wholesaler must carry a county sticker, which helps the county track how many jars are being sold.
Other sources — And then, there are family and business membership plans with some of the companies, plus a number of fundraisers that many of the companies use.
Fundraisers can include ice cream sales, event food stands, and money and gun bonanzas — social events where raffles are a big attraction — and commissions on family photo portraits.
— Arnold S. Platou