Letter to the Editor: Firefighter Responds to Fireman’s Fair Critics

| July 2, 2016

I am writing this letter in regards to all of the negativity that has surrounded the 2016 Rocky Grove Fireman’s Fair.

Yes, there was small donation of $3 for parking, and you had to buy tickets to go on the attractions for $1 each. Yes, it was downsized this year to only three true carnival type rides and blow up attractions from Rocky Grove’s/Franklin’s very own Jones Party Magic.

Was this the fire department’s fault? Yes and no.

For the yes side, the event was moved up 2½ weeks and only ran for three days, also we had a lot smaller budget this year, possibly because of the gate fee last year, and less people to help.

On the no side of things, the ride company refused to renew the contract due to them losing money last year. And, the other companies out there wanted three times as much money to set up on a shorter notice.

The important thing to remember here is the fair could have been cancelled altogether for the first time in 84 years, but there were a few dedicated firefighters that said that was not even a option!

If you the people would like to see other stuff, you need to tell the fire department, so they can look for and make the changes for the better.

Every year, I – along with everybody else – hears all the complaints of how the price goes up, and it’s not the same as it used to be….Guess what, everything changes over time as well as everything for sale goes up, and everybody pays the higher prices with very little squabbling and goes about their life.

But, God forbid anything with the fair should or would have to change.

What 85 percent of the residents of Venango County do not realize is that there are 19 fire departments, 17 of which are 100 percent volunteer and are not staffed all the time, which means that there members have to respond from home or work to respond to 911 emergency calls. The only two that are staffed 24/7/365 are Oil City and Franklin, and they’re paid.

Now, back to the topic at hand. The other big thing that most people do not understand is that these large events like weeklong fairs cost serious money. We’re talking $10-20,000 and six months to prepare and plan for. And, with dwindling members to run and help out on large scale events, it’s almost impossible.

Currently, at the time of this letter, Rocky Grove VFD has 30 active every day members which sound like a lot for help, but when you’re trying to run a fair for a week and have 2-3 people in all the games and booths, it’s not enough.

The only way that this event will ever be close to what it was in the 80-90s that I remember as kid is with the help of the public by either stepping up and helping or by making larger donations to this event.

People are always saying that we make good money off of the fair. Yes, we do, but guess what – the fire department has bills just like all of you people. And, with an operating budget of $135,000 for this year, the money doesn’t go very far -after you figure in the bills, especially considering the cost of repairs to the fire equipment.

Also, we are looking to replace a lot of outdated equipment within the next 3-5 years.

I’ll share some real world numbers for cost of things. New fire engine $500,000 plus and good used one $200,000 to $400,000.

Firefighting gear, coat, pants, helmet, gloves, boot and protective hood $5,000 per person and air packs are $9,000 each. Training about $500 per person per year.

And, we need to replace a 17-year-old rescue truck at $200,000 low end of scale and one 20-year-old fire engine at $200,000 low end of scale. 15 air packs at $9,000 = $135,000, 25 sets of gear at $5,000 = $125,000 and training for 15 people at $500 = $7,500.

This should be real close to $667,500 and 90 percent of all our money comes from donations to pay for all of this including everyday expenses.

Yes, there are grants that can be applied for to get help replacing the equipment, but they’re not a guaranteed source of income.

Sugarcreek Borough makes up less than 20 percent of our income, and there are no official numbers in from the fair yet, but I’d be shocked if we made more than $5,000 this year.

So, the only real options for the fair to be great again is with the help of the communities by either making larger donations or joining to help. Yes, people can become members to do nothing more than help with fundraisers or be office staff, so those men and woman can do the fundraising events.

I would like to personally thank the handful of people that did step up this past weekend and help. Whether it was watching a bounce house for an hour or 6, or helping park cars in the field to making sure the workers had water and breaks out of the sun, they took personal time from their life to help.

And, it was hugely appreciated. And, for their help they were given dinner from the ladies food booth.

Also, thank you to Sam Gadsby for setting up the www.gofundme.com to keep the Rocky Grove Fair alive.

Maybe this will help out for 2017.

And, to all the naysayers: The people that did attend had a great time.

Submitted by Matthew Cook
Cook is the Second Assistant Fire Chief in the Rocky Grove Volunteer Fire Department, Venango County Station 21.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of exploreVenango.com.

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