Audits Find Problems at Volunteer Fire Companies

An audit of internal processes at five volunteer fire and rescue companies found problems at all five. However, almost all of the departments have made improvements in the past year.

The audit was meant to check on internal controls for several processes, such as financial reporting, cash disbursements, or contracts and purchases. Arcola Volunteer Fire Department, Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company, Loudoun County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Philomont Volunteer Fire Company, and Sterling Volunteer Rescue Squad all turned up areas where internal controls were not consistently performed and documented.

In particular, auditors found Arcola inconsistently performed processes in almost every area. Sterling Rescue had consistently performed controls in almost every area, but only kept documentation in half those areas.

The audits are of processes, and not financial audits. They turned up no financial irregularities.

Since the reports began in 2015, two companies have turned up control weaknesses that make them vulnerable to inaccurate financial reporting and fraud. In one case, the county government stopped contributing money to that company until it implemented sound policies and procedures. In both cases the companies complied.

The report, prepared by the firm of Cherry Bekaert, also followed up on the five volunteer companies audited last year. Lovettsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Lucketts Volunteer Fire and Purcellville Volunteer Rescue have all taken steps to remediate the weaknesses the auditors found. Sterling Volunteer Fire had not, according to the report.

Hamilton Rescue and Hamilton Fire companies, which were reviewed last year, are under a separate audit.

Assistant Chief Matt Tobia said he has spoken directly with the Sterling president, and the company is “100 percent committed to making the necessary changes.”

“I know that he has given this his undivided attention,” Tobia said. “I expect that they will come into full compliance very quickly.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com

4 thoughts on “Audits Find Problems at Volunteer Fire Companies

  • 2017-10-18 at 2:02 pm
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    Can we get some more information? Who ordered these “audits?” Who is behind dogging the Volunteers for keeping the canary copy in the pink copy folder? How do dotted I’s and missing form 1276 impact these good people who volunteer to fight fires in our homes, and pull people from car wrecks? Who?

    • 2017-10-18 at 5:25 pm
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      The audits were put in place a few years ago, shortly after the Middleburg Vol Fire Co embezzlement incident. Every company gets audited. Lots of taxpayer money goes into those companies. The audits are much needed and long overdue.

  • 2017-10-18 at 7:16 pm
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    In response to the article on volunteer company audits, I feel there is a need to offer some clarity on the background and current status of the auditing process so as to alter any negative perceptions that may ensure from the public. In roughly 2011-2012, the Board of Supervisors conducted a comprehensive review of the fire and rescue system through its Government Reform Commission. That Commission was concerned over 2 tragic financial embezzlements involving 2 volunteer companies which had occurred in their recent past. Following months of research and discussion, there was a recognition that these 2 companies lacked the fiscal procedures and guidance to prevent the occurrences, and concluded that more formality and consistency was needed across the volunteer system to prevent such future occurrences. The Board of Supervisors followed by appropriating funds to hire an auditing firm to evaluate the current individual company practices and to establish baseline “best practices” for future use of public funds. To date, all 15 volunteer companies (in increments of 5 companies at a time) have undergone a “process audit” and these have been reported out, in public forum, to the Board of Supervisors in regular fashion. And, in each of these reports, as could be expected, the analysis has shown a wide variety in the level of formality used at the company level to manage its financial affairs. To correct this, each company is given a “checklist” of practices needing improvement and a period of time to address the recommendations. Follow up then occurs to ensure codification of the improvements. While the article does point out that funds were withheld from one volunteer company, that situation was an anomaly, was rectified through education and public funds have been restored. However, it is a gross misrepresentation to conclude that there are “problems” with the level of accountability in the at the company level. Better stated, “areas for improvement,” absolutely.

    I will attest that County staff and each volunteer company President have worked openly, cooperatively and thoroughly on this effort to ensure that public funds are being managed correctly. The System is much better positioned today as a result of these audits and time will yield even better accountability throughout.

  • 2017-10-19 at 2:45 pm
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    Thank you both for filling in the blanks. I’m aware of the Co. 3 case, and now this article makes sense.

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