ATLANTA, Ga. -- It would be a safe bet that there's no fire department or EMS provider in the nation that would say it has plenty of funding and doesn't need another penny.
It would also be safe to say many of same emergency services providers have no clue how to improve their financial status.
Two gentlemen from the Chesterfield County (Va.) Fire and EMS Department were on hand Wednesday at Firehouse Central and EMS Expo in Atlanta to give attendees some information on alternative funding opportunities for emergency service organizations.
Chief of Department Loy Senter Jr. and Battalion Chief Mark Nugent said that while traditional sources of funding, typically tax dollars, are shrinking every day, there are plenty of grants still available and often the money gets left on the table unclaimed.
Additionally, there are lots of civic minded people in the communities who want to help and will make sizable donations, but departments can't be afraid to ask, demonstrate their needs and, above all else, recognize the donors and say thank you.
"Do you have all the funds you need to operate your emergency services organization?" Senter asked. "If you do, you may want to step out and head to another class." Not one person moved.
That's because most departments are funded through municipal tax dollars, which have declined as property values have fallen. And fundraising has become a burden for volunteer departments who have been asked to do more training and equipment maintenance in addition to responding.
"We have to be creative," Senter said. "Money is not growing on trees. Everybody is facing difficult economic times, budgets are being cut back. And all the while, we're being asked to do more with less."
One of the creative ideas Senter offered was an EMS Passport System. Under the program, residents in the providers' coverage area can purchase a "passport" which for a set price -- Senter offered $59 as the set fee -- the subscriber would be given medical care and transport to the hospital for no additional charge.
It works, Senter said, because the people who are proactive typically will never use the EMS system, there by netting the organization pure profit.
Billing for services is an industry standard for most EMS providers, although not universal. Senter said it's a good way to generate revenues for the providing organization.
Less common is billing for fire services, including motor vehicle accidents, fires and hazardous materials responses.
Senter said his department generates about $50,000 annually for hazmat responses by billing for staffing, equipment and clean-up supplies. And, in many cases, businesses are willing to pay for the services provided.
However, not everyone will be thrilled with getting a bill for services rendered.
"Is this process going to be easy?" Senter questioned. "No. It's going to be politically charged and you are going to have to work with your elected officials to make it work." He added that emergency services officers should be prepared to get an earful from residents who receive bills.
"I got a bill and I don't understand it," Senter said, imitating an irate customer. "I pay my taxes. I donate to the local rescue squad, why did I get a bill?"
Fire departments might also be able to generate a small amount of revenue by charging fees for permits for burning and for fireworks, and any other permit the organization might issue.
"It's not a sustainable or reliable source of income, and you're not going to collect a lot from it, but it's something to consider," Senter said.
One staple of reliable income is fundraising and Battalion Chief Nugent has become somewhat of an expert in the field, hosting stew and crab festivals, as well as very successful golf tournaments.
The process, however, is not so easy these days, he said.
"You're [already] asking volunteers to give up lots of man hours," Nugent said. "And then, you say, 'by the way, you need to come down and cut up vegetables for the stew.'"