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Ligonier volunteer fire departments conduct fundraising campaign

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

The annual mail campaign to support the Ligonier volunteer fire departments is underway. The community is asked to make a tax-deductible contribution to aid the departments, their stations and equipment.

“Volunteer does not mean cost-free,” said Ligonier Valley Fire Companies president Lyle Boyd, “Our firefighters serve without pay, but we still require support from the community.”

The LVFC is a charitable organization that raises financial support for four volunteer fire companies serving the Ligonier community — Darlington Station No. 42, Ligonier Station No. 43, Waterford Station No. 44 and Wilpen Station No. 45.

The organization is operated entirely by volunteers — with representatives from each of the four fire companies participating. The proceeds of the annual campaign are distributed equally among the companies and used for annual operating costs such as utilities, insurance and maintenance of equipment and buildings.

“It's a good organization,” said Boyd, a longtime member of the Waterford Station. “It's a true group effort and a big improvement compared to the many years that the stations operated their own independent fundraising campaigns.”

Participants agree previous efforts were competitive and overlapping. In many cases, the same residents were being asked for donations four times a year. So representatives of the four companies decided to try a unified appeal for financial support.

Under the name United Fire Companies of Ligonier, the organization was established in the late 1980s.

Twenty years later, in 2008, it was decided that it would be in the communities' best interests if the combined effort was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(C)(3) charitable organization so that contributors would know that their donations were tax deductible. The organization was renamed Ligonier Valley Fire Companies.

“We're very fortunate to have the Ligonier Valley Fire Companies,” said Bill Stablien, president of the station in Ligonier. “The united effort has made it so much easier. They do an amazing job.”

The fire stations receive support from Ligonier Borough and but each company is independent and responsible for the upkeep of their own equipment and station.

The cost of operating the facilities has increased over the years.

The different companies still do various fundraisers throughout the year to benefit the individual stations, but a significant portion of their funds come from this annual mail campaign.

“We would hope all citizens would accept support of the local fire companies as a personal civic responsibility and show their support for the volunteers who ensure the safety of the community 365 days a year,” said Phil Felming, a member of Ligonier Volunteer Hose Co. No. 1 and LVFC's treasurer.

Emergency services provided by the fire companies go far beyond responding to house fires.

“We react to any and all situations where we might be needed, such as flooding, storms and accidents,” said Stablien.

One problem that the LVFC encounters — that they would like the public to be aware of — is that some outside organizations conduct solicitations over the telephone and identify themselves as supporting the fire service and firefighters.

“People get these phone calls and think they're donating locally and they're really not,” said Fleming. “Often a high percentage of what is collected by these types of organizations winds up paying the people making the calls. What they do is not illegal, but it doesn't benefit our local volunteers. None of that money goes to local fire companies.”

Fleming said the LVFC works hard to keep expenses at a minimum.

“We pay for printing, postage and professional assistance reviewing our books and filing our annual tax return,” Felming noted, “But 95 percent of donations collected go to the four fire companies.”

LVFC members agree that community support over the years has been good.

“Many citizens budget yearly to donate,” Stablien said. “We're happy that when it's time to contribute, the citizens step up. And we're fortunate that the public perceives the mail fundraiser campaign as a good way to support the fire departments.”

The cooperative, direct-mail approach has proved to be successful; however, LVFC strives to convince more people to contribute.

“We're not asking people to give more; we're asking more people to give,” said Fleming.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.