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Volunteer fire companies revenues taking a hit due to COVID-19

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Fundraising is never easy for volunteer fire departments, which rely on benefactors and charity events for to a sizable portion their revenue.

Throw in a global pandemic — and for the likes of York Township Fire Department,  a busted engine that cost the company $78,000 to repair — and raising cash can become a legitimate concern.

"No fire company can afford a $78,000 expense," said Robb Green, vice president of the York Township Fire Department. "Unplanned expenditures like this are horrible for fire companies because we don't have a pot of money sitting there."

Goodwill Fire Company firefighter and chief engineer Ryan Fisher replaces a generator reservoir on a truck at the department Monday, July 20, 2020. He was driving the York Township department's tower ladder truck on Interstate 83 when it blew a piston, resulting in a $78,000 repair. "There was smoke everywhere," he said of the breakdown. Bill Kalina photo

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, hundreds of bingo nights and chicken barbecues hosted by volunteer departments across York County were cancelled, halting large sources of revenue needed to maintain buildings and equipment. 

To help the York Township Fire Department with its most recent hefty expense, the York Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a financial contribution to fully pay the fire company's apparatus repairs on July 14.

"We rely on the township, but we also rely on contributions from individuals," Green said. "Hopefully, things will come around and we'll be able to continue getting revenue."

This year, York Township contributed 3% of its annual budget, or $1.1 million, for fire and ambulance protection, according to the 2020 budget.

Robb Green, vice president of the York Township Fire Department, talks about the engine failure of the department's tower ladder truck, background, Monday, July 20, 2020. The truck was on a call when it blew a piston, resulting in a $78,000 repair. Bill Kalina photo

Though this roughly accounts for two-thirds of the fire company's total budget, the organization took a $20,000 hit as a result of being forced to cancel several key fundraisers that it relies on to generate additional revenue, Green said. 

In search of alternative fundraising efforts, York Township Fire Department officials improvised.

All barbecues at the department are drive-thru only now in order to promote social distancing, Green said. 

Financial contributions in the form of checks are also being accepted, department officials said. Donors can send checks, payable to York Township Fire Department, to 2318 S. Queen St., York, PA 17402.

Eureka Volunteer Fire Department in Stewartstown, similarly, has established alternative fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic in the way of food trucks.

"There's lots of creativity going on, trying to find ways to raise money," said Ira Walker Jr., assistant fire chief at Eureka. 

Eureka Volunteer Fire Department, located at 82 North Main St., is a $400,000 a year operation, Walker said, adding that "every dollar of fundraising counts."

Eureka Volunteer Fire Department's food truck event starts at 4 p.m. every Friday. 

Walker said since the events are outside and the fire company is carefully following social distancing guidelines to host its fundraising events, he "doesn't see a reason not to have it."

The Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Co. has been hosting similar weekly food truck events to raise money for the company after being forced to cancel some of its largest fundraising events. 

"COVID-19 has caused two important fundraisers to be canceled so far this year. Along with other volunteer agencies, we are taking a financial impact with the loss of these funds," reads a Facebook post from Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Co., which announced in May its popular fireman's carnival would be canceled.

Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Co., too, is getting creative in order to bolster revenue by working with local small businesses and food trucks. 

Its next event, featuring several food trucks including G's Pizza and Mi Adobo, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at the fire station, located at 21 W. Forrest Avenue.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.