Fire fighter fill the boot for charity

(The Center Square) – Volunteer firefighters saved more than property for Delaware residents last year.

State Auditor Kathy McGuiness said in a news release that the state’s volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel saved taxpayers nearly $255.7 million in FY21, the projected cost of a fully funded statewide firefighter program.

“Delaware’s fire service is, and always has been, a tremendous asset to Delawareans,” McGuiness said in the release. “As my team does every year, they performed a detailed cost analysis and identified what it would cost taxpayers to have an entirely state-employed fire service instead of having mostly volunteers.”

For salaries, firefighting equipment, infrastructure, and apparatus, the cost would total “more than $313 million,” according to the report as property taxes would increase $10.51 per $1,000 of assessed property value," McGuiness said.

“That means for a home assessed at $100,000, it would cost those residents an additional $1,051 in property taxes each year – just to support a fully state-employed fire service,” McGuiness said.

According to the release, McGuiness is urging the General Assembly to create an independent fund to help support fire departments throughout the state. Departments are currently eligible for grant-in-aid through the state budget.

“It takes adequate training, funding and resources to protect the public,” McGuiness said. “To keep pace with call volume, career and volunteer fire service members need our support in ensuring proper funding to continue the long-standing and proud tradition the fire service has in Delaware.”

According to the report, the state’s volunteer fire departments could receive Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding due to the loss of revenue through canceled events and fundraisers through the pandemic.

However, McGuiness is recommending to the General Assembly that fire departments are considered when distributing American Rescue Plan Act funding in the coming years. Departments would be eligible for funding if they incurred expenses through the pandemic relating to protective and sanitizing equipment that was not budgeted, combined with the loss of revenue through event cancellations.

According to the auditor’s report, the state currently has 60 fire companies, 21 substations and three ambulance stations and a force of 6,000 volunteers. In New Castle County, there are 21 fire companies, 18 in Kent County, and 22 in Sussex County. Currently, the state uses a combination of paid and volunteer emergency responders.

Volunteer firefighters receive a $500 credit on individual income taxes, can participate in a pension plan, and receive worker’s compensation if they are hurt in the line of duty. Life insurance in the amount of $200,000 is paid out if an emergency responder perishes in the line of duty, and college tuition reimbursement is paid for children of those killed in the line of duty.

Associate Editor

Brent Addleman is an Associate Editor and a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He has served as editor of newspapers in Pennsylvania and Texas, and has also worked at newspapers in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky.