Model railroad show next fundraising event for South Baldwin VFC

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Bake sales and bingo are a thing of the past.

Instead, there are mattress sales, model train shows and sportsman's bashes to help raise money for the local volunteer fire company. Social media, with the creation of a Facebook page and Twitter account, also are keeping the firefighters in the public's eye and helping to build a positive connection with the community.

“We want to have a clean image. We want our community to trust us,” said Marisa DeLuca, a “B member,” or nonfirefighting member of the South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company and the group's social media manager. “We want to get the message to the community that we're more than just a fire company.”

South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company members are striving to keep up with the trends for fundraising by brainstorming new ideas and seeing what works for others across the region. And they have a good motivator: that shiny, bright red truck that just arrived needs paid for.

Yet, as they work to raise money to keep the station afloat and trucks, hoses and firefighters arriving at homes when a resident calls, it is just as important to be there for the community at other times, said DeLuca, 21 of Bethel Park, a junior public relations major at California University of Pennsylvania, who began working with the fire company in the past year on an “image campaign” after the leaders of another Baldwin Borough fire company were charged with theft.

She wanted to differentiate South Baldwin, she said. And she did that through social media.

Within two weeks of starting earlier this year, the fire company's Facebook page — found in a search under “South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company” — already reached DeLuca's goal of 600 likes, she said. Now, she has set a new goal to get the page more than 1,000 likes.

What has helped South Baldwin, is the notoriety the fire company received nationwide from a public safety announcement they made in the form of a firefighter version of PSY's “Gangnum Style” video, firefighters agree.

DeLuca, whose brother Adam is a South Baldwin firefighter, has used the Facebook page — and the company's Twitter account, with a handle, @SBVFC104 — to share photos from the firefighters' drills and meetings, which she now attends. She also started putting profiles of the firefighters on the Facebook page, in an effort to show the community the faces behind the South Baldwin fire company, DeLuca said.

Plans also are in the works to update the fire company's website and turn it into a hub for public safety news in South Baldwin.

“When people are going to call South Baldwin, they don't pick up the phone book and look for the number. They go online and look it up,” DeLuca said.

The firefighters, too, have adapted their fundraising efforts in an attempt to keep the cash coming in, and in turn, the doors of the all-volunteer station open.

“It's a nonstop thing that we have to do,” said Jim Bischoff, 46, a member of South Baldwin since 1985.

The fire company receives an annual allotment from Baldwin Borough and funding from the state.

Bischoff, a member of South Baldwin since 1985, and a locomotive engineer for Norfolk Southern, is organizing the fire company's first model railroad show and sale this weekend.

He has relied on help from coworkers who know about the miniature trains and visited other events in the region to publicize the South Baldwin show and sale.

“The whole idea of having a show was kind of foreign to me,” said Bischoff, noting he knows more about the bigger trains that he drives.

Library Volunteer Fire Company has a model train show, but there are few others in the South Hills, said fire company President Chad Hurka.

Other new fundraisers have included mattress sales, which started last summer, Hurka said.

The first event raised nearly $2,000 for the fire company. The second, held March 24, raised about $1,200.

“It's definitely money we didn't have before. That's what we strive for,” Hurka said.

A popular event for the fire company, held last Saturday, was the annual sportsman's bash, held jointly with the Brentwood Volunteer Fire Company. Each fire company is responsible for selling 500 tickets and the event includes unlimited food, beer and raffles for money and guns.

The event, now in its third year, sells out, Hurka said.

Other ideas continue to flow, like the prospect of bringing a 5K back to Baldwin in the next year, Hurka said.

The fundraisers will need to continue to help pay for the electric bill and equipment costs.

South Baldwin's new E-One Engine fire truck arrived at the station within the last three weeks. It cost $359,000, which is on the low end for fire trucks, Hurka said.

It will replace a more than 20-year-old truck that was costing more in repairs to keep in operation than the new vehicle will cost to put on the road, Hurka said.

“What we do is we put out fires, but if our truck breaks down we can't get to the fire,” Hurka said. “It's like if your car breaks down and you can't get to work. But the risk for us is much greater. We can't make the same gamble on the daily basis.”

The fire company did get a $150,000 loan from the State Volunteer Loan Assistance Program to help pay for the truck and has planned for the new purchase for years, Hurka said. Yet, this makes fundraising all the more important.

“It's very exciting, but we hope to get 20 to 25 years out of it,” Bischoff said. To pay for the new truck at its current cost, it would require the fire company to organize about 400 fundraisers in 20 years, Bischoff said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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