Fire departments need more money

February 24, 2023

Most Cape Region fire departments share the same problems: Calls are rising and membership is declining. Many local departments have responded by hiring full-time EMS/firefighters. If the trend continues, they’ll be forced to hire even more. 

The uptick in calls is particularly straining the Lewes Fire Department, where calls have increased by more than 2,000 per year in just the last two years. 

While fire departments do not fall under the umbrella of their local governments, Cape Region municipalities provide annual donations: Lewes – $75,000; Rehoboth Beach – $150,000; Milton – $15,000.

These donations are greatly appreciated, but they barely scratch the surface of each department’s growing needs. Apparatus are not cheap. Lewes recently committed to buying a new ladder truck with a price tag over $1 million.

In Rehoboth, fire officials say their existing ladder truck likely will not be sufficient to battle fires at proposed downtown hotels. That means they’re eyeing the purchase of a new truck with a ladder that can go higher and farther to reach a fire that may occur in the middle of a four-story hotel that’s the size of a city block. 

Additional funding comes from Sussex County, which included $5.6 million in its FY 2023 budget for fire and ambulance services. A portion of that money is tied to building, as 1/4 of 1% of the construction value of each property developed is collected for fire and EMS service.

Grant-in-aid funding from the state is mostly evenly distributed to all Delaware fire departments. For example, a Sussex department with nearly 7,000 annual calls received the same amount – $192,000 – as a company that responded to 2,800. Another department that handles under 1,000 annual calls received just $16,000 less because it doesn’t operate a substation. In trying to be fair, the state is being unfair to departments that could use additional funding.

The state can also provide money through Community Transportation Funds in the bond bill. 

It’s time to reevaluate how funding for fire departments is divvied up. The state should consider funding based on each department’s call load, while the county should increase the amount earmarked for fire and ambulance services. 

Additionally, each municipality should work to establish and fund an account dedicated to fire and EMS to ensure each local department has what it needs to serve its citizens. 

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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