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Pa. fire companies sound fund alarm

December 23, 2000

Pa. fire companies sound fund alarm



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


SOUTH MOUNTAIN, Pa. - Firetrucks cost so much these days that the volunteers who man them spend almost as much time raising money to buy them as they do fighting fires.

"We're constantly trying to raise money with bingos, raffles, carnivals and fund-raisers," said Ken North, training officer for the Franklin County Firechiefs Association. North is a volunteer with the Fannett-Metal Volunteer Fire Department.

"The problem," said State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, "is that the volunteers have to spend so much time raising money that it leaves little time for training and fighting fires. It's hard for the members to find time for their families, jobs and fire departments."

Members of Franklin County's 16 volunteer fire departments raise most of the money needed to by new trucks. An average pumper can cost $200,000; many cost $300,000 or more, depending on equipment.

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Gov. Tom Ridge just signed an $11 million appropriation that allows fire departments to borrow money to buy equipment at 2 percent interest, Fleagle said.

Help is also coming from the federal government. On Friday, Congress appropriated $100 million to fund the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act. The money is to be used in fiscal year 2001. The program expires Sept. 30, 2001.

The grants will be based on matching money. A department serving over 50,000 population needs a 30 percent match. A department serving under 50,000 population has to match 10 percent.

The South Mountain Volunteer Fire Department bought a new KME, 1,250 gallons-per-minute pumper, the department's first new firetruck in its 46-year history, for about $200,000. It went into service on Dec. 1.

Fire Chief Larry Freeman said the department borrowed the money from the Guilford Township Supervisors through a low-interest, 20-year loan to be repaid at $9,000 a year.

"If we had to raise the money, we never could have bought the truck," Freeman said. There are about 40 members in the department's roster with 10 to 15 considered active," Freeman said.

The department put itself in a position to make the payments by paying off $150,000 in old debt. "We did it with bingo, carnivals and donation drives in the community," Freeman said.

South Mountain is the first due fire department in Guilford and parts of Quincy townships in Franklin County and Hamiltonban Township in Adams County, Pa. Guilford gives the department $18,000 a year, Quincy about $10,000, and another $1,000 comes from Hamiltonban to help run the department.

Volunteer fire departments in Pennsylvania share in a special tax levied on out-of-state companies that sell fire insurance in the state. The program, called the Firemen's Relief Association, funnels the money to the departments through their municipalities.

It can only be used to buy ambulances and safety equipment including turn-out gear for firefighters, Scott Airpaks, hoses, lights for the trucks and similar equipment. It cannot be used to buy firetrucks.

The fund can amount to a sizable chunk of a department's annual budget.

Washington Township gets more than $50,000 a year in Firemen's Relief Association funds.

According to Township Administrator Mike Christopher, the township gives the Borough of Waynesboro about $50,000 a year for serving a portion of the township. Another $52,000 a year goes to the Blue Ridge Summit Volunteer Fire Department, which covers the township.

Many fire departments hold community fund drives every year then salt away the money in special truck funds that they build up until the money is needed to by new equipment.

John Fleagle, chief of the Blue Ridge Summit Fire Department, said his company just bought a new $100,000 ambulance to add to its fleet of emergency vehicles.

Nick Barbuzanes, chief of the Mercersburg, Montgomery, Warren and Peters Volunteer Fire Department in Mercersburg, Pa., said the volunteers receive about $50,000 from the four municipalities it serves.

"It's hard work for the volunteers. They not only have to fight fires but they also have to raise money to keep their equipment up-to-date." He said his department raises about $30,000 a year in its local fund drives which goes into a truck fund.

"The people here are very supportive of the fire department," he said.

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