The department typically has to make use of the tool about four times a month when people in car accidents get trapped inside their crushed vehicles.
But practicing that rescue is dependent upon the whim of generous local residents. The three or four cars that residents donate each year tend to be older models. Using a new car is “more relevant for us to train on,” said David Short, chief of the Sterling Volunteer Fire Company.
The three Passats are part of 190 vehicles that the carmaker has donated to training facilities across the nation. The cars came from the first manufactured testing batch that Volkswagen cannot sell and would otherwise recycle. But the executive team decided that the cars could go to much better use.
“We didn’t want to waste valuable resources if they couldn’t be sold,” said Laura McKelvey, general manager of the Volkswagen Academy, the automaker’s training arm. “It was a great opportunity to donate them to an organization that would otherwise not be able to afford them.”
The newly redesigned Passat is being manufactured at the automaker’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The car is priced at $25,000.
Industry experts say that prior to the recession most carmakers would partner with education programs to give away cars that didn’t pass quality control or were damaged in transit.
“Since the downturn, those donations have largely dried up,” said Chuck Roberts, vice president of the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation. Roberts said that before the recession, car companies would call twice a year looking for educational programs to receive its cars.
The Sterling Volunteer Fire Company, which has 130 members, receives 70 percent of its $1.1 million budget from Loudoun County. The rest it raises through fundraisers, mailing campaigns and an annual 10k race. A drop in donations during the recession forced the department to delay purchasing a fire truck by a year and to cut back on its order of new uniforms.
“The concept of a volunteer fire company is a hard sell,” said Chief Short. “But we feel that Volkswagen really gets us.”
The fire company is now looking to secure an ongoing partnership with the carmaker’s local dealer, Lindsay Volkswagen of Dulles, which may be a win-win for both organizations.
“It doesn’t matter if the organization is profit or nonprofits,” said Volkswagen spokesperson Carsten Krebs. “The donation was serving a purpose, and the purpose is to give the firefighters access to the latest and greatest cars for their training.”