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Mt. Pleasant fire chief: Community contributions are critical

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Ruth Pologruto prepares for a game of bingo sponsored by the Mt. Pleasant Borough Volunteer Fire Department at the department's firemen's hall in a photograph taken Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. Marilyn Forbes | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal

The Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Borough Volunteer Fire Department is beset with an inflated 2013 budget highlighted by spiking equipment costs, said department fire Chief Jerry Lucia.

The department also has an increased need for manpower, he said.

What is lacking, however, are relied-upon donations from the surrounding community and money raised through fund raising activities by the department, Lucia said.

“It's tough,” said Lucia of the stall in donations and participation in fundraisers.

Such money is essential to keeping everything from department vehicles to firefighter gear in top shape for the department's roster of 41 firemen, he said.

“With the economy being the way it is, people sometimes just don't have the money,” Lucia said.

For the past several decades, the department has relied heavily on fund raising as a way to make ends meet, purchase additional equipment and complete repairs on any of the department's seven vehicles.

“There is a lot of fund raising that is needed,” Lucia said. “The annual (borough) firemen's fair brings in about one-half of our budget and the weekly bingo brings in about one-quarter of the budget.”

The budget for the department is around $100,000.

The weekly bingo, once a well-attended and staple money generator for the department, has been on a decline for many months with attendance numbers dwindling, according to Al Maida, the department's secretary.

“You can just see how the numbers have gone down,” Maida said. “Our numbers have been going the wrong way for a while now.”

Residents such as Ruth Pologruto still come to the bingo faithfully every week.

“I like this bingo, and I have been coming here for years,” Pologruto said. “It's a nice bingo and a good way to support the firemen.”

The annual fair is always a well-attended event, Lucia said. The 2012 installment was close to a banner year for the long-standing tradition, he added.

“This could have been a record year for us, but we had one day of rain,” Lucia said. “We get a lot of support at the fair which is nice to see.”

But even with the success of the fair, the dwindling number of annual donations has been noticeable, Lucia said.

“It used to be an automatic for people to send in their donations,” Lucia said. “It was the families who had lived here, year after year after year, who would just mail in their contributions because they understood that we were here to help the community. Now with so many new people, we just don't see that.”

The rise in the price of firefighter equipment continually challenges the department, Lucia said.

“People don't realize what it takes to suit up a fireman,” Lucia said. “When you are putting everything together for a new fireman — which includes boots, pants, a coat, a helmet, gloves and a Nomax hood — you are looking in the neighborhood of $2,200, and that price has been going up about $200 every year.”

Ideally, Lucia said that a new set of equipment for a fireman is expected to last 10 years. For an average active fireman, however, that number can be much lower, he added.

“With the younger active guys who are fighting fires and crawling around you might get only a few years out of a set of equipment,” Lucia said.

The department is allotted about $10,000 each year from the state, but that money must be used for equipment, and it must be earmarked in each year's spending plan.

“That is grant money so what you apply for (is what) you have to buy,” Lucia said.

In addition to general operating expenses and equipment purchases, the annual budget also included events sponsored by the department.

“We sponsor the Halloween Parade, the Easter egg hunt and the firemen's banquet every year,” Lucia said.

Lucia said he's hoping the community will step forward by attending fund raising events or donating directly to the department.

“It's tough,” Lucia said. “Our bingo used to be heavily attended and we used to collect about $40,000 a year with our donation letter, but the economy has been bad and people just don't have the money.

“We just hope that the community thinks of us when they do make a donation or a contribution. We are here for everyone. For every person in this community.”

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.