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Tip jar proceeds help county's fire companies maintain budgets

March 05, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

Have you ever seen medics load a sick or an injured person into an ambulance and speed toward a hospital? Ever watched a firetruck roar through the streets and stop at the smoke and flames?

More than likely, those medics and firefighters are volunteers, able to do their jobs thanks in part to gamblers hoping a bit of luck and a few bucks will come their way from a tip jar.

Half of the profits from tip jars are forwarded every year to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

In the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2005, $1.5 million was dispersed to the Fire and Rescue Association, and since 1996, more than $14 million has been distributed.

"We wouldn't operate without it. There's no doubt," said Glenn Fuscsick, who is president of the association as well as a professional firefighter with the City of Hagerstown and a volunteer with the Funkstown Fire Department.

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In some cases, funding derived from tip jars makes up half of a fire or rescue company's annual operating budget. The county has 27 volunteer fire and/or rescue companies, Fuscsick said.

While half of tip jar proceeds go to the fire and rescue companies, the other half is given to nonprofit organizations. Last year, 92 nonprofits received grants, ranging from an $870 grant to a 4-H club to $165,000 given to the Community Free Clinic.

Fuscsick said that without the tip jar proceeds, the county either would be forced to stop providing fire and rescue service, would have to find an alternate funding source or would have to pay for career firefighters to replace volunteers.

It's estimated that each volunteer station saves the county between $1 million and $5 million a year.

The tip jar proceeds are used to pay for equipment, including vehicles. A firetruck costs around $300,000, while a ladder truck costs around $800,000, Fuscsick said.

It also pays for fuel, repairs to equipment and maintenance on the companies' buildings.

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