When Jim Spore prepared to leave Texas in 1991 to become the new city manager in Virginia Beach, he was stunned to learn that the city’s EMS system was totally manned by volunteers. “I said to myself, ‘this is pretty incredible. I wonder if it works.’”
Twenty-four years later it’s still working, and Spore continues to marvel at the selfless devotion of the squads across the resort city. “They buy their own equipment, build their own stations and conduct their own fund raising,” he says. “I go around the country and tell my fellow city managers that we save millions of dollars a year on emergency medical services thanks to volunteers. They look at me like I have three heads.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Jim Spore,” says Kevin Lipscomb, president of the Kempsville Volunteer Rescue Squad. “He has always spoken up for us and made sure we had what we needed.”
Indeed there have been challenges to the volunteer system, but leadership, from city council to the city manager, have been strong advocates. “It’s been a wonderful public, private partnership,” says Ellen McBride, chief of the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad. “The city sets rules and standards that all the squads follow, creating a seamless system.”
For Spore, the dedication of the volunteers is what gives him the most pleasure. “There can be no more selfless service than what they do,” he says. “To me there is no greater expression of the term ‘community’ than what the rescue squads do on a daily basis.”
Ellen McBride says what happened on April 6, 2012 proved that. That afternoon a Navy training jet crashed into an apartment complex off Birdneck Road, shortly after takeoff from NAS Oceana. “We had twelve ambulances on scene within minutes,” says McBride. “And we were still able to provide coverage throughout the rest of the city because we have 36 ambulances altogether.” Spore says he was blown away by that rapid response to what could have been, but wasn’t, a massive disaster with loss of life. “It was truly incredible.”
The city makes no-interest loans in some instances to enable the squads to purchase their equipment or construct new headquarters. “It’s been a very good relationship,” says Spore, “and I have to give a lot of credit to the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation for funding an ongoing marketing campaign and making grants to the squads.”
Spore says Virginia Beach has the lowest real estate tax rate in the region “because of the volunteer EMS system.” That’s why all citizens should support the squads with their donations and thank Jim Spore for his 24 years as city manager, which end with his retirement on January 1. “I’m not going anywhere,” says Spore, a Texan who has “fallen in love with this city and region.” And with its hundreds of volunteer lifesavers.