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Cranberry's Community Chest hopes yearly project will boost VFDs across county

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 5:15 p.m.

Volunteer fire departments throughout the county stand to benefit from Cranberry's Community Chest's 2015 project of the year, organization officials said.

The group will use its annual Community Days event, scheduled for July 10-12, to start raising money for a trailer that will be used to train families and businesses about fire safety and for scholarships at Butler County Community College for students who agree to volunteer with a fire company.

“We're very excited that this is county-oriented,” said Bruce Mazzoni, chairman of the chest's Community Days. “It will be something to see, in a year or two, are we making a difference?”

“We're all hurting right now,” said Steve Bicehouse, director of Butler County Emergency Services.

“I applaud anyone who takes the steps to open dialogue, to open a pipeline for potential candidates, anyone who is thinking outside the box.”

Bicehouse didn't have specific numbers for volunteer firefighters in Butler County, but said the numbers have been dropping.

“It's bad,” said Bicehouse, also a volunteer firefighter for Evans City. “I've been in the fire service since 1986, and we don't have near the volunteers we did in 1986.”

Pennsylvania had about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in 1976, according to state Fire Commissioner Ed Mann. He said that the last official count was around 70,000 in the late 1990s. He believes it's now closer to 60,000.

Experts have blamed the drop on a lack of interest and on more demanding jobs leaving less time to volunteer.

The total cost of the 2015 project is estimated at $500,000, including the training trailer, Mazzoni said.

Cranberry's fire department already has a program in which members go to local businesses to teach fire safety.

“A training trailer would be a good addition for use for family training,” Mazzoni said.

The trailer would be made available to all volunteer fire companies in the county, he added.

It also would help with recruiting, Mazzoni and Bicehouse said. “There's a lot of people in the community that don't even realize they are volunteers. Many think a lot of firefighters are paid,” Bicehouse said.

Mazzoni said the group wants to fund between 15 and 20 scholarships a year at the community college, where students pursuing any degree would receive reduced tuition with the promise to join a fire company.

Students could receive firefighter certification at the college, which has a public safety program and training center there, Mazzoni said.

The Community Chest usually announces its annual community project in the fall, but decided to use the July event to start fundraising. The project will begin a few weeks after the 2014 project of the year is completed.

Outdoor exercise equipment will be installed within the next six to eight weeks at several stations in Graham and North Boundary parks, Mazzoni said.

Nearly $200,000 in fundraising will pay for the equipment.

Past community projects have included installation of an electronic community sign at Routes 19 and 228, and construction of the Scouting plaza in Graham Park in 2012 and the Kids Castle playground in the township's Community Park in 2013.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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