Residents can ring in 2015 by helping Philipsburg’s Reliance Fire Company

The Reliance Fire Company in Philipsburg is struggling financially and will host a fundraising event New Year’s Eve.
The Reliance Fire Company in Philipsburg is struggling financially and will host a fundraising event New Year’s Eve. CDT file photo

The Reliance Fire Company will hold its first New Year’s celebration in hopes that it won’t be its last.

The company needs money to keep the lights on, Chief Jim Thomas said.

“To be quite honest, we’re in financial distress, and we don’t want to have to eventually close our doors,” he said.

The celebration, an event for those aged 21 and over, is the first of its kind for the company. Music by DJ Gi Gi, drinks and food will be included in the price of admission, and people can enter raffles and lotteries as they welcome the new year.

The company formed a fundraiser committee this year to organize large events to pay the bills. The hope is that the events draw the type of crowd bingo nights used to get — about 250 people.

“The fire company has always had bingo as its main source of income,” Sharon Goss, who volunteers on the company’s fundraising committee, said. “They may get 20 people now, so they need something else to pay their bills, to maintain fire trucks and to update firefighters’ equipment.”

Goss is a Philipsburg Borough Council member, but said she is not on the company’s fundraiser committee in an official capacity.

The company held bingo on Wednesday and Saturday nights for years, but scrapped Wednesday night bingo about two months ago and may cancel Saturday night bingo.

“You have to make drastic changes sometimes in order to survive,” Thomas said. “It is a possibility that we stop having bingo, and we’re pulling numbers together to discuss that.”

The company, which responds to about 400 calls annually in Philipsburg and surrounding communities, has also had trouble updating equipment, all of which is at least 10 years old. The company’s fire trucks are 18, 28 and 33 years old, and the average cost of a firefighter’s uniform is about $3,000.

“Most gear is only good for 10 years, and that’s the life expectancy, too, for apparatus,” Thomas said. “If one of them goes down, we don’t have the money to fix it, and it’ll be out of service. An engine pumper is $500,000 to replace; a platform truck is $1 million.”

Thomas said he doesn’t think people realize how costly it can be to operate a fire department.

“We also have water, electric, cable and Internet bills we have to keep up with,” he said

An alternative to try to keep the company operational is a tax increase on property owners or a mandated fire tax.

“We’d like people to voluntarily be active in fundraisers so we don’t have to tax people,” Goss said.

Applying for grants to get new equipment is seen as a dead end, she said.

“It’s difficult to get grant money unless you have a grant writer,” Goss said. “Grant writers typically ask for 5 percent of the grant upfront, and we’d pay out money we don’t really have for something we might not get.”

“A lot of grants are matching grants,” Thomas added. “If you don’t have the money to match the grant, you don’t get it, and we don’t have the money.”

Thomas, who has volunteered with the company for 38 years, said it’s important for the company to operate.

“A lot of us have been with the company for a long time, and now my son Tyler is a member, too,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of pride for us involved, and we’d hate to see it disappear.

“It’d also be a great loss to the community,” he added. “You don’t know what you have until it’s not there.”