fire truck
File photo

Volunteer fire departments in West Virginia finally have a permanent funding source

This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at

By Henry Culvyhouse
Mountain State Spotlight

Scratch-off and Powerball tickets will become the newest funding source for volunteer fire departments, after Gov. Jim Justice signed off on a bill Wednesday. 

With little fanfare — and near unanimous approval — lawmakers passed a bill earlier this month to provide an extra $12 million for volunteer fire departments in the state each year from the state lottery fund. 

Randy James, president of the Volunteer Fire Chiefs Association, said the boost is much needed. As the Chief of the Frametown Volunteer Fire Department in Braxton County, James said equipment, like battery rescue tools to remove people from crashed cars, costs tens of thousands of dollars. 

“That money is a big help for us,” he said.

The extra money can also go towards making payments on new trucks, James said. Depending on the size and function, a new fire engine can cost more than $1 million in today’s economy. 

In West Virginia, the more than 400 volunteer fire departments are funded through a variety of ways — boot drives, spaghetti dinners, mail-flyers asking for donations and county fire fees. 

All departments also receive a stipend from the state from a small tax on property insurance. For about 15 years, there’s been a push to raise that tax to get increased funding for VFDs, but lawmakers have consistently shot it down. 

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers made another go at finding more funding, but it died on the vine during the last night of the session. That plan would have provided permanent funding for volunteer fire departments and EMS providers.

In August, delegates and senators returned to Charleston to scrounge up more money for VFDs. They approved an extra $6 million to go into the fund bankrolled by the insurance tax, $3 million to go to a new fund for counties with fire levies or fees and the other $3 million to get distributed to all counties, based on population and need. 

However, none of that was a permanent fix. By January, half of the $12 million had been tapped out. 

“Last year, it was a one-shot surplus deal,” James said. “We didn’t know if we were ever going to see that money again.” 

Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, had proposed last year that lottery money be used to help fund volunteer fire, instead of raising the surcharge tax. 

Linville said when he first floated using lottery for fire funding, he looked at more than 20 years worth of data to see if the money would be steady enough for the long haul. 

“We feel quite confident that there will be a stable revenue stream for a long, long, long into the future,” he said. 

For departments big and small, James said the extra money each year could be a game changer. 

But this wasn’t something that happened overnight — James said volunteer fire has been advocating and pressuring lawmakers for years to get more money for the service.

“I started going to the Capitol in ‘96 on a pretty regular basis. And then after I retired in ‘14 I told people I tried to get my mail down there during the session,” James said. “You have to be down there daily, in my opinion.”

Reach reporter Henry Culyhouse at

News Feed

Subscribe to remove popups, or just enjoy this free story and support our local businesses!