Local volunteer fire departments to hold fundraisers in October

Sierra Rains
Falconhead firefighters out with a fire truck at the station in Burneyville. The Falconhead Volunteer Fire Department will be holding a fundraiser this weekend.

Volunteer fire departments rely heavily on donations to keep their departments operating and keep their communities safe. Beginning this weekend, community members will have several opportunities to support the volunteers in their local fire districts. 

The Ringling and Falconhead Volunteer Fire Departments will both be hosting fish fry fundraisers on Saturday, Oct. 3. Both will feature an endless supply of free fried fish, hushpuppies, french fries and more, with donations encouraged. 

The fundraiser in Ringling will mark the third annual fish fry for the department, and will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ringling Fire Department, located at 21 North 5th St. The Falconhead Fire Department is coming up on its 30th annual fish fry — a longstanding tradition for the department. 

The Falconhead fundraiser will be held at 1 p.m. at the Falconhead Resort and Country Club, located at 115 Falconhead Drive in Burneyville. However, like most fundraisers this year, things will look a little different. 

“It’ll be only a carryout this time. We’ll have a place where people can sit down under the trees outside at tables if they want to sit down to eat,” said Falconhead Volunteer Fire Department Chief Roy Jones. “We do three fundraisers a year and this is usually our biggest, but it will probably be our smallest this year because of the coronavirus.”

The Wilson Volunteer Fire Department has also had to change up its annual fish fry fundraiser, set for Oct. 10, this year due to COVID-19. 

“We normally have people come here and sit down, and have some kind of entertainment along with it, but with COVID this year, we just had to change it to a drive-thru,” said Wilson Volunteer Fire Department Chief Justin Nipp. 

The Wilson fundraiser will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Wilson Senior Citizens Center, located at 1165 7th St. Plates will cost $10 each, and all proceeds will benefit the fire department. As the Wilson Fire Department’s only fundraiser of the year, donations are extremely important. 

“Last year we raised right at $9,000. That all goes towards purchasing new equipment and maintenance and upkeep on vehicles that we already have,” Nipp said. “With the downfall in the economy and the recent downturn, it’s even more important because we’re going to be dependent on these fundraisers to continue to operate for the next year.”

With three fundraisers spread out throughout the year, Jones said the Falconhead Fire Department usually brings in anywhere from $1,200 to $4,500 from its annual fish fry— but every dollar counts. Most volunteer departments rely on donations for around 75% of their annual budget, Jones said. The rest comes from state grants and a small tax base. 

“Some of them are doing it on as little as $10,000 a year and it takes $20,000 a year for me to keep a six bay fire department open,” Jones said. “You have to figure out either how to cut something or you have to figure out how to make it work with the funds that you have. It stretches you sometimes.”

Nipp said his department’s budget was cut this year on a municipal level due to a lack of proceeds from last year, and many volunteer departments have had to cancel fundraisers this year due to COVID-19. The Wilson Fire Department will need to raise close to $9,000 again this year. 

“It’s been stressful on some of the volunteer fire departments because they haven’t been able to do their fundraisers the way they need to and we run out of money pretty quick sometimes,” Jones said. “You have a couple of major repairs and you’re in pretty serious trouble.”

Volunteer firefighters are often some of the first on scene in more rural areas and without funds for proper maintenance, repairs and various equipment, response times wouldn't be as fast.  

“People forget that we’re out there, we’re still required even though they don’t need us at the moment,” Jones said. “It’s that one time that you do need us and that’s when we’re there.”

Fundraisers serve as not only a way to help support your local fire department, but to visit with local volunteers and community members, and enjoy good food. 

“Sometimes people see people they haven’t seen in a while or haven’t had an opportunity to stop and talk to,” Jones said. “It makes it really important for the community. You can eat all of the catfish you want to eat, there’s no restriction, and then you have your time to visit.”

To find out more about donating or fundraisers, contact your local fire department. 

“Just come out for some good food and to help support your local fire department,” Nipp said. “Hopefully you won’t ever need them, but when the need arises we want to be there and be able to function to the best of our abilities.”