APPLE GROVE —“You take the punch, turn with it and make due with what you can.”
So said Elza Black, fire chief for Valley Fire Department, when it comes to dwindling funds and getting creative about finding new sources of income for the department.
Valley, along with all fire departments in Mason County, suffered funding cuts at the county level for two consecutive fiscal years, though Black and Deputy Fire Chief Nick Miller say they looked at it as an opportunity to find more money from different sources. Black said he understands the financial position the county was in when the cuts were made and there are no hard feelings.
So far, Miller said the only aspect of the department’s operating budget that has been affected by dwindling funding are fundraiser expenses. Miller said the department is looking at other organizations to offset the cuts and maintain services.
Recently, the department was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, specifically from its funds the Gordon C. and Mildred R. Jackson Foundation and the Dr. Athey and Veronica Lutz Fund with each contributing $5,000. Black said this money will be used to purchase 3,000 feet of 1 3/4-inch hose and 2,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose.
Mario Liberatore, representing both the Jackson Foundation and Community Foundation, presented Black and Miller with the check on Wednesday.
“Budgets are tight for businesses and government entities, and community foundations are one way for organizations like Valley Fire Department to seek funds to support their endeavors,” Liberatore said.
Earlier this year, the department also received a Claflin Foundation grant for two gas monitors.
Black said his department will be looking more toward grants to buy equipment and not only maintain but build upon the services already offered to the community. In fact, Black and Miller say they have identified $700,000 of private sector grants to assist with this and possibly building a new fire station.
The current Valley Fire Department was built in 1973, and according to Black, the expenses and utilities on the old building continue to mount. Plus, the department has had acres of nearby land donated to them by M&G Polymers, which means Valley has a total of seven acres to work with now. This week, fire department members met with an architect to discuss costs on a new firehouse. The old station would also be kept intact for training and use by the community, Black said. This new firehouse is at least two years away and dependent on grant funding.
Valley’s coverage area is 110 square miles, from Crab Creek Road to the Cabell County line with 27 firefighters on the roster.
Black said the department has also had a UTV and new computers donated to it in the recent past, and American Electric Power recently donated a van to the department.
Black himself has suffered some health problems where he recently lost a leg and is quite possibly the only fire chief in West Virginia on active duty with a prosthetic leg.
“I lost my leg but I’m still walking forward,” Black said about both himself and the department.