Halifax County volunteer fire departments and rescue squads are asking for the community’s help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fire departments have not been able to have their usual fundraisers this year because of restrictions on large gatherings and economic hardships experienced by county residents, so they are operating with limited financial resources.
The Halifax County Rescue Squad normally does a letter drive soliciting donations each March. This March, the country started feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment numbers skyrocketed, so the rescue squad decided not to do the letter drive, rescue squad captain Anne Conner explained.
“We use the letter donations to upgrade equipment,” Conner said. “We can’t get the grants that we normally do either because of the pandemic.”
The squad is still in need of donations for equipment; its most crucial need is a cardiac monitor, with a price tag of $35,000.
“The Virginia Department of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has to certify our ambulance so it meets inspection, and that is one of the requirements,” Conner said. “The cardiac monitor checks your heart rhythm. If we initiate CPR, we can shock your heart with the cardiac monitor, or if we need to, we can change your heart rhythm with it…It’s life saving.”
The rescue squad’s cash flow has taken a hit not only from the lack of donations from not being able to do the letter drive but also from a decrease in the volume of calls. The rescue squad bills for EMS calls, Conner explained.
“Before the pandemic, we were getting 18 to 24 calls in 24 hours. Now, we might get half a dozen calls that we can bill for per day,” the rescue squad captain said.
Those wishing to donate to the rescue squad can mail donations to P.O. Box 183, South Boston, or stop by the rescue squad at 700 Hamilton Blvd. between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The volunteer fire departments also have felt the economic impacts of the pandemic, with fundraisers being canceled or postponed.
“The COVID situation has affected our donations. We’ve had to cancel our annual Family Fun Day, our biggest fundraiser, due to the COVID situation,” said Rodney Francisco, chief of the Triangle Volunteer Fire Department.
The fire department canceled its usual activities for Family Fun Day but instead plans to offer drive-through take-out meals that day – Aug. 29 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the department, 1051 Mortons Ferry Road.
“They can drive up and tell us what they want – barbecue or chicken tenders. They don’t even have to get out of their car,” Francisco said.
Francisco said Triangle’s call volume had been slightly lower during the pandemic, as well. He added that the volunteer firefighters were not even able to meet for a couple of months during the pandemic.
“Our morale gets a little lower because we’re not as active,” the Triangle fire chief said.
He added, “We’re here to help. That’s what we’re here for.”
The Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department also had to cancel its largest fundraiser of the year, Summerfest.
“We had two to-go fundraisers. It didn’t replace Summerfest, but it did help us out,” said Gerald Ellixson, Virgilina’s assistant fire chief. “For the most part, we’re doing okay.”
Right now, Ellixson said the Virgilina fire department’s most urgent need is for volunteer firefighters.
North Halifax Volunteer Fire Department’s major fundraiser of the year is its famous Marathon, held annually the Saturday after Labor Day. While the Marathon has not been canceled this year because of the pandemic, the fundraising event will be scaled way back from previous years.
“The Marathon is basically a homecoming for the Republican Grove community,” said North Halifax fire chief Ronnie Waller. “We still have our Marathon on schedule for Saturday after Labor Day. It won’t be anything like we’ve had the past 35 years. We’re planning to do takeout plates this year. We normally have everything from vendors to live music, activities for the children, bouncy houses, train rides.”
The Marathon accounts for 75% of the money the fire department takes in every year, Waller said. He added the Ladies’ Auxiliary also has had to postpone several fundraisers for the fire department this year.
A decrease in the number of EMS calls at the beginning of the pandemic also has impacted North Halifax Fire Department’s finances this year. The fire department charges for transport on EMS calls, so not receiving as many calls affected the department’s cash flow, Waller explained. At the same time, he said the fire department’s expenses have stayed the same. All in all, the volunteer fire department’s need for donations from the community is greater than ever.
“Each fire department still appreciates all the help the local community gives us. We have people who support us year round,” Waller said.
The Halifax Volunteer Fire Department’s largest fundraiser of the year is a letter drive in the fall of the year, followed by a catfish tournament, which is typically held in May. Fire chief Daryl Dawson said the department still plans to do the letter drive in the fall but had to postpone the catfish tournament. Now, the tournament is set for Aug. 8 at Staunton River State Park.
“They’ll come down that evening and register their boats and fish until 2 in the morning. The biggest fish gets the top prize,” Dawson said.
The Liberty Volunteer Fire Department’s largest fundraiser of the year is a door-to-door donation drive at the end of March, but the department had to cancel that fundraiser because of the pandemic.
“Normally we collect between $10,000 and $12,000 in our door-to-door drive,” Liberty’s assistant fire chief Randy Fisher said. He said the department plans to send out letters at a later date soliciting donations in lieu of the door-to-door fundraiser.
Dean Waltman, chief of the Oak Level Volunteer Fire Department, said the department has had to cancel all of its fundraisers this year, However, he said the lack of fundraisers has not had a critical impact on the department, because the department is only receiving about one-fourth of the calls it received before the pandemic, so the fire trucks are not burning up as much fuel, and there is not as much “wear-and-tear” on the trucks.
“We are business as usual; you call, we’re coming,” Waltman said.