Fire Training Center falls on hard times

September 22, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- The Franklin County Fire Training Center has seen a slow decline in local support, worrying officials that if the center cannot soon tap into steady funding, its coffers could be dry within the year.

After a major financial outpouring to open the center, the only money trickling into the fire training center budget these days flows from fees to train at the facility, said Jim Picking, president of the center's board of directors.

"Funding?" he said. "We don't have any."

The 5-acre fire training center, which is off U.S. 11 just south of Chambersburg, offers firefighters access to a burn building, classrooms and a storage garage to learn the skills of their job.

With a monthly operating cost of $1,835, the nominal training fees cannot keep the lights on without help from the organization's savings, he said.


Picking said he estimates that without additional funding, the center could be out of money in as little as a year.

Even though the center frequently attempts to offer training courses that would generate some income, many classes have been canceled due to lack of participation, Training Coordinator Clyde Thomas said.

The Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association owns the training center and until this past summer when it appointed a board of directors, the association ran the center's day to day operations, said Dusty Stoner, chairman of the Chiefs Association.

Stoner, who is also chief of the MMP&W Fire Department in Mercersburg, Pa., said he cannot fault the departments that have opted to train in-house rather than use the facility.

"In today's world, money is so tight everywhere," he said. "It's tight with the municipalities, our fire department budgets are extremely tight, even our personal wallets are tight."

Each volunteer is needed for a department to operate effectively, he said. If some volunteers are away training out of the service area, it can put a strain on the department, he said.

Currently, the training opportunities listed on the chief's association Web site are classes offered at various departments, not the training center.

While no department in the county can boast the amenities which the center offers, most department are still hosting their own training, Thomas said.

Finding a steady source of income is key for the organization, said Picking.

The new board of directors has drafted a business plan that outlines goals for two, five, 10 and 20 years. It is also making plans to approach every municipality in the county for funding, he said.

County Commissioner Bob Thomas said the county and local municipalities were instrumental in establishing the center.

Matching a $600,000 state grant with $1 for every resident, the county contributed $130,000 to the project in 2002, he said. The county asked each municipality to do the same, and Bob Thomas said to his knowledge, each contributed their portion of another $130,000.

Picking hopes that the municipalities will find a reason to fund the center again, ideally by adding it as a line item in its budget.

Arguing that the municipalities are mandated by the state to provide fire and rescue services, Picking said the training center is merely an extension of that responsibility.

In the meantime, Clyde Thomas said the overlap with the fire departments limits community fundraising.

"They are beating on doors asking for money," he said of the departments. "If we start beating on the doors, we will end up at the same doors and that is bound to upset the departments. We are in a very tough spot."

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