I'm willing to bet that nearly every volunteer fire department has the exact same set of primary problems, decreasing membership and a serious cash flow reduction. I am also sure that the continuing mandates handed down by the various regulatory agencies add to those woes. It used to be that the local fire department was a central place for the community to gather, and nearly every young person dreamed of riding on the trucks, keeping things safe for all. In some communities, that still exists. But for how long?
I’d like to relay one idea that led to a success story for our local volunteer fire department. It was suggested that a social club could be incorporated into the existing firehouse to maintain a cash flow and give others a reason to join the department. This club would be like a restaurant/bar and sell small games of chance, which is pretty lucrative for volunteer fire departments based on the state's regulations on such sales.
During a social gathering, a Township Council member and I discussed the situation. I mentioned that a small parcel of vacant land behind the municipal complex could be donated to the fire department for the social club. As Manager, I saw the grand potential of this and how it might be a stepping stone for many things to come.
After much discussion and public comment, and of course, a legal team, Council voted to provide a 100-year lease to the department with the condition that if they abandon the site for any reason, it reverts back to the Township and a satellite station would be established at the site to provide additional safety coverage to the community.
With the opening of the fire department’s new social club, things started to change in the right direction for the department. They anticipated maybe 1,500 social club members, but they far surpassed that, reaching 7,000 at one point. The small games of chance and daily/weekly drawings have been an absolute hit with the membership.
The pandemic created new challenges for the club, just like another business of this type. But they continue to keep their head above water and know that the Township has their back. The Township Council is committed to ensuring the fire department remains a cornerstone of the community for years to come. The partnership to lease the land for a social club was an innovative way to preserve the fire department’s future. Perhaps your municipality and volunteer fire department can do something similar! These are the types of creative solutions we specialize in at Keystone Municipal Solutions. If you’d like to hear more about the services we provide, feel free to email us at email@example.com.
Whether it’s your fire department, EMS or police, a little creative thinking and collaboration can go a long way to ensuring their long-term success. So let’s "fire this thing up" and find new ways to save your cornerstone services.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.