Penn. Fire Department Gains Financial Support Through Social Club

Penn. Fire Department Gains Financial Support Through Social Club

News Jun 12, 2018

Erie Times-News, Pa.

June 12—It’s hard not to notice the connection to the local fire service in a social club with fire helmets over the bar, beer taps connected to a bright red fire hydrant and specialties such as firetruck fries, hook and ladder haddock and a smokehouse burger on the menu.

Engine House 39 in Washingon Township is more than just a place for members of the Edinboro Volunteer Fire Department to hang their memorabilia or grab a bite to eat, however. The seven-week-old establishment, tucked behind the township building across from General McLane High School on Route 99, was born of the dreams of department members, and it exists after many years of planning to help fund the operation of the volunteer fire, rescue and ambulance service that serves residents of Edinboro and Washington Township.

The effort is already paying off, according to those involved in its creation, as more than 2,000 people have paid the $25 annual fee to become social members of the club, which opened on April 20.

“It couldn’t be better. We’ve been absolutely ecstatic,” said Daryl Parker, the department’s president. “As an entire department we really had high hopes and high expectations for what we would see in terms of membership growth, and I think we’ve exceeded those. The support of the community has been absolutely phenomenal, and we just absolutely appreciate that from them.”

Engine House 39 is the first social club connected to a fire department in Erie County. But the concept isn’t unique in the Erie region, as seven volunteer fire departments in Crawford County have social clubs, with a few of those clubs operating for decades. An eighth club is expected to open later in June when the Summit Volunteer Fire Department in Harmonsburg begins operating a club out of a former restaurant on Route 18 near Route 322.

The Vernon Central Hose Co. in Vernon Township opened a small club in the early 1960s and expanded it over the years, most recently in 2013, said Bonnie Allen, one of its trustees. The club has about 2,200 members, and all of its profits go to the fire department’s operations, Allen said.

“We’re always improving safety equipment, truck equipment,” she said. “We try to keep up with the best equipment so the residents have the best service when something drastic happens.”

The social club, Allen said, is “a nice, clean place that people can bring their kids to.”

Like those departments in Crawford County, Edinboro VFD officials decided to create a club that would help raise funds for department operations, at a time when funding is harder to come by.

“One of the things we know, and it’s not specific to Edinboro but it’s across the commonwealth, is that EMS reimbursement, or ambulance income, is going down. It used to be one of the major funding sources for the fire department that’s now going away. So the question becomes how to get more money,” Parker said. “Chicken dinners just can’t raise the amount of money that we need in order to make the fire department sustainable and do the things we need to have and do on a daily basis. So we began looking very seriously at the social club concept.”

Department members first discussed the idea more than a decade ago, and explored areas south of Edinboro to put the club. Officials ultimately decided that the timing wasn’t right, Parker said. They revisited the idea about five years ago, “and really, to the thanks of many people, we just stuck with it and said we’re going to make it happen,” he said.

The department looked at renovating the social hall at its fire station in Edinboro to serve as its club, but after Edinboro Borough Council rejected the transfer of a liquor license in December 2014 Washington Township, officials offered the property the club now sits on. The department secured the property on a 99-year lease.

With the help of a business consultant and the club’s general manager, Debbie Fuller, the new club started to take shape. The department received a lot of assistance from fire departments with social clubs, particularly those clubs in Crawford County, said John Huff, who chairs the club committee.

“They were very, very open with us and shared some of the struggles, some of the strengths with us, what worked, what didn’t work for them,” Huff said.

The total investment in the project was “just shy of $1 million,” Parker said, noting that the overall cost was kept low through the generosity of some suppliers, some builders and the department’s own volunteers, who donated their time in putting the club together.

“So a lot of cost savings that we were able to develop through the project allowed us to get such an amazing end product at a much lower cost,” he said.

The club, with an open dining room, an outdoor patio and special events such as bingo on Tuesdays, is open daily. The club is open to the general public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The operation is strictly employee-based, with about 28 people on staff. Huff said one of the things organizers did not want to do is create more work for the general membership of the fire department.

Department members will continue to operate their traditional fundraisers, such as monthly dinners, and will use those funds for the day-to-day finances of the department, Parker said. Proceeds from the club will be used for capital expenses, he said. Fire Chief Patrick Davis noted that it costs about $4,000 to outfit a firefighter with turnout gear, a new fire engine costs about $450,000, and a new ladder truck costs about $1 million.

Edinboro’s current ladder truck is a 1986 model, and the newest rig in its fleet is 10 years old, half the life expectancy of a “first-out engine,” Davis said.

“This gives us the ability to have that long-term plan,” he said. “Chicken dinners, all respect to that system. It worked for a long time. But nowadays, it just doesn’t work the way it used to work. This venture has proven in Crawford County to work quite well.”

Parker said the Edinboro Volunteer Fire Department views its new club as a community resource, and members want people to come to it, enjoy it, treat it like home and be proud of it as a community resource.

“Our community has always supported our fire department to the extent that it can, and we can see from the club that they will continue to do that,” Huff added. “We feel we made the right move here. We think that this is going to go a long way toward solving our money situation at the fire department, and it’s because of all those partnerships we built over the years.”

For information on Engine House 39, visit www.edinborofire.org.

Source
McClatchy
Tim Hahn
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