Local volunteer fire departments struggling to raise money after pandemic forces event cancellations

PITTSBURGH — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way many volunteer fire departments raise money to survive.

Many departments are forced to rely on fundraising events such as raffles or gun bashes, but the pandemic has meant many of those were canceled or moved online.

“That’s part of the nature of the job, that you risk your life and now we are possibly in a position where we have to risk our finances as well. I think we give up enough as it is doing this for free,” said Fire Chief Anthony Ferderbar.

The Shaler Villa Fire Company is just one local department feeling the pinch.

“We have 1,600 people potentially that are looking at these raffles at any time,” said Richard Giannoccora, president of the fire company.

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Posted by Shaler Villa Volunteer Fire Company on Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ferderbar and Giannoccora are fearful their method of raising money could be in jeopardy because of what has happened to other fire departments. Several neighboring departments were sent letters from the state threatening fines, loss of small games of chance and even the seizure of the money raised.

“We are not, I guess, supposed to be able to take credit and debit cards to be able to handle these things and that was the whole point of the house bill that is held up at this point. House Bill 2764 would have allowed us to continue the online tip raffles and the virtual badges and stuff and allow us to accept debit and credit cards,” Giannoccora said.

But he said the bill is just sitting. In the meantime, the department needs to upgrade pieces of equipment and get more personal protective equipment.

“We are coming close to the end of the life cycle of some of our rigs that we have for our breathing apparatus and we did apply for a federal grant, which we were denied on,” Ferderbar said. “It’s our lifeline. This is what we rely on to be able to do our jobs. If we don’t have these, we can’t be firefighters.”