Kiski Township Fire Department wants to raise funds for social hall
The Kiski Township Fire Department has few choices: buy a winning lottery ticket, or ask township residents to step up.
The department's 40 active members and 10 other members are seeking to replace their cramped social hall.
The fire department owns about 5 acres along Route 56. They are convinced that a new social hall will rapidly become a community center, a place to have free will Thanksgiving meals and a venue for wedding receptions, said First Assistant Chief Mike Bash.
The circa 1947 social hall has room for 85 people.
“It was a three-bay garage when it was donated by a family in 1947,” Bash said.
That's not big enough to hold bingo or gun bash fundraisers, said fire company treasurer Gary Kepple.
The fire department eventually wants to consolidate its fire trucks and ambulances in a single building.
But first, it needs a bigger headquarters. The estimated price tag is $1 million, said secretary Rose Steffey.
Kiski Township doesn't have a fire tax and doesn't want one, said Bash, who is a township supervisor. “We want to do this on our own, and we think we can do that,” Bash said. The department has an annual budget of about $100,000.
Fire Chief Rich Frain, who is a township supervisor, doesn't like a fire tax.
Frain said the community building plan has been discussed and debated for years by firefighters.
He said the fire department acquired the 5-acre lot years ago.
“We paid to level it out and from that time on, we have talked about the building we need,” he said. “Now, we're ready to move forward, and we hope township residents will help.”
Bash said the older firefighters want to start a fundraiser for the building now so that it can open in about three years.
“We want the community and our younger volunteers to have something after the older members are gone,” Bash said.
When Kepple started as a volunteer 19 years ago, the fire hall had a 1966 tanker truck, a 1972 aerial truck, and a 1999 pumper as well as two brush trucks.
The department has tankers from 2003 and 2007, a rescue truck and medical units.
The fire department provides fire and emergency medical services in a 50 square-mile area and backs up neighboring departments. It makes 250 to 300 fire and ambulance calls each year.
About 30 percent of the township's 4,000 residents annually contribute to operate the fire department “even though we're the first ones people think about when they see smoke or are in an accident,” Kepple said.
“We're hoping for large donations from residents and businesses and hope to get state grants to help us,” Bash said.
State lawmakers visit
Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, and Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, looked at the tract and talked with the hopeful firefighters.
Both said they will do what they can. But the task won't be easy.“I represent parts of five counties and there are 92 fire companies there,” White said. “They all want brick and mortar help. That's the problem.”
At the same time, White said the state can't afford to lose its volunteer fire companies. Pyle said he has an idea about securing a $500 state grant that will require a local match.
Both lawmakers encouraged the department to ask township residents to contribute.
“The best way is to get younger firefighters to knock on the doors,” White said. “An individual approach is always the best.”
Bash agreed, then added, “Yeah, but we have almost a 50 square-mile service area.”
Local firefighters shouldn't look at Harrisburg for all the answers, said White.
He believes lawmakers will continue to wrestle with property tax bills and predicted that budget deliberations “will be a nightmare.”
White suggested the fire officials look into the possibility of accessing Marcellus shale natural gas from their property.
That revenue would supplement community contributions.
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.