CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Just as it's been doing for 14 years, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races Wednesday gave each of Jefferson County's seven volunteer fire companies $3,000 to spend as they wished.
The checks were presented to department representatives at a luncheon at the track by casino General Manager Al Britton.
The gifts are part of the racetrack's commitment to being "a good corporate citizen, a way to show our appreciation to the volunteers and an opportunity to give back to the community," Britton said.
Lenny Lehman, emergency services chief at the Blue Ridge Mountain Volunteer Fire Co., said his department will spend its money on operating expenses.
"We're facing a $160,000 expense right now to replace our Scott airpacks by next month," he said.
Lehman said he didn't know if any department uses its annual casino donation to build up a capital improvements fund. "We're a poor company. We have to pay the bills as they come in," he said.
Ronald Fletcher, president of Citizens Fire Co. as well the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association, said the volunteers will use their casino checks for normal operating expenses.
"Three thousand dollars pays for a month of fuel or about a third of the cost of a regular truck repair," Fletcher said. "A new fire engine can cost $450,000 or more. Everything we get is a help."
Fletcher estimates that there are about 300 volunteer firefighters in Jefferson County.
Roger Ramey, vice president of public affairs at the casino, said the fire departments have been receiving annual donations since slots opened in Charles Town in 1997.
"It's a way to recognize the efforts of all the volunteer fire and rescue departments," he said.
The casino has its own EMS unit, but relies on the county's volunteer companies for fire protection.
Henry Christie, Fletcher's predecessor as president of the fire and rescue association, said the casino has trained EMS teams who stabilize patients until a volunteer unit arrives to transport them to a hospital.
"We only station ambulances at the track during horse races in the event a jockey gets injured," he said.
In addition to Blue Ridge Mountain and Citizens fire departments, representatives accepted checks for the Middleway Volunteer Fire Co., Bakerton Fire Department, Friendship Fire Co. and Independent Fire Co.
No one was there from the Shepherdstown Fire Department.