Alternative Funding Sources For the Fire Service

As we move further into the 21st century, the base of our financial support is, in many areas, under attack. This is unfortunate, as the need for our skills and talents remains. What seems to be missing from the citizen/government interface is an...


As we move further into the 21st century, the base of our financial support is, in many areas, under attack. This is unfortunate, as the need for our skills and talents remains. What seems to be missing from the citizen/government interface is an understanding, on the part of the citizen, that there...


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As we move further into the 21st century, the base of our financial support is, in many areas, under attack. This is unfortunate, as the need for our skills and talents remains. What seems to be missing from the citizen/government interface is an understanding, on the part of the citizen, that there are no free lunches in the world today.

For you younger readers, the concept of a free lunch became a popular marketing device for saloon proprietors early in the 20th century. If you, the customer, bought a beer, the proprietor provided a meal to go with it. Usually, the meal consisted of cold cuts, bread, pickles and hard-boiled eggs. It was a widely used device to gain and maintain a loyal consumer base. However, the fact that this concept disappeared tells us a lot about its fiscal viability. The cost of the free lunch grew to be too great for the tavern owner.

If the free-lunch idea did not work for tavern owners, who had a fairly popular product to work with, how could it ever work with a concept as unpopular as government? You know government; they are the people who bring you laws, taxes and wars. Far too many people continue to make demands without understanding that the financial resources of any entity are a finite commodity.

Government operates with people and things. These both require the infusion of dollars. Money is the lubricant that lets the engine of government operate smoothly. And it is John Q. Public (you and me) who fills the oil drum of government lubrication. You are all aware of the use of taxes. It would serve no good purpose here to speak of increasing taxes to cover costs. What I will do, however, is supply you with information on some ways in which you can supplement the available tax dollars.

As a long-time volunteer firefighter and former EMS person, I am not without experience in the generation of capital. Counting my volunteer EMS service, I have been involved with the concept of "hustling a buck" for more than 40 years. My volunteer fire department still holds biannual pancake breakfasts and an annual mail solicitation program. My earliest memories of fund-raising come from my days in the Freehold, NJ, First Aid Squad, where we went door-to-door on our annual fund drive beginning in June 1964. My associates and I knocked on doors, met friends, made new friends and told our story to the public in a one-on-one manner.

In a small community, you are faced with a smaller pool of dollars. However, you are blessed with the face-to-face nature of the service you deliver. People are more willing to part with money in support of a service delivered by their neighbors. And in a smaller community, the service demands are normally less intense. This was the case in Freehold back then. Let me assure you that as the population has blossomed over the past four decades, the level of person-to-person interaction has plummeted. It is a lot tougher to raise money now.

The same will hold true for you. Unfortunately, as your community grows and the relationships between people grow more distant, the ability to generate capital deteriorates. The pool of resources is bigger, but the fish are less willing to take your bait. In this case, a door-to-door campaign becomes more difficult because of the logistics involved.

The next step is usually a mail campaign, which does not have the immediacy and personality of a door-to-door campaign. There is generally a dropoff in funds. At this point, we look at the standard supplemental events. A quick and partial list of things that I have seen and done to raise money follows:

  1. Carnivals
  2. Pancake breakfasts
  3. Bingo
  4. Chicken barbecues
  5. Dances
  6. 50-50 draws
  7. Flea markets
  8. Raffles
  9. Tractor pulls
  10. Mail campaigns

How much better would our training, learning experiences and fireground operations be if we were not continually trying to raise money? Surely, the public would rather we were great fire and EMS providers than dynamite short-order cooks. Perhaps it is our fault that they have not been taught to better appreciate what we are doing for them.

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