Firemen’s ball tickets pay for more than just a fun night out
NORTH CANAAN — “What if volunteers didn’t?” The Canaan Fire Company (CFC), now in its 101st year, has adopted that as its new motto.Although, unlike so many other small town fire departments, their need right now is not for new members as much as it is for more money. Their upcoming annual dance — set for Feb. 18 — is a major fundraiser for the company. Everyone is invited. There will be four hours of music lead by DJ and CFC member Ryan Long, and a Hawaiian theme to overcome midwinter blahs.Several members got together recently to talk about the dance, known when it was started decades ago as the Fireman’s Ball.“It was very formal. All the firemen came in dress uniform,” said Maribeth Weaver. At some point, it became the Washington’s Birthday Dance, appropriate for February, but a theme that eventually needed an upgrade. Every year at this time, CFC mass mails a letter with two dance tickets included. They are grateful for the many people who will join them, and for those who buy the tickets simply as a donation.“With more younger members, we have had a more informal theme,” said CFC Vice President Jerry Callinan. “Last year we had about 150 people, about half of them ‘civilians.’ It was a great time and definitely not just for firemen. It’s a great, cheap date night.”This year’s letter is different in that it spells out specific needs and costs, including its $80,000 operating budget. That covers the cost of maintaining the firehouse, paying utilities and even buying fuel for the fire trucks. The CFC volunteers wanted to make sure people understand how much goes into providing vital public safety, including the tremendous amount of donated time, from washing and fueling trucks to ongoing training, and fundraising. “We just had seven people pass state certification for Firefighter 1 training,” Chief Lee Baldwin said. “I don’t think we ever had that many at once. It’s great, but we also paid $600 each for the training and will need to buy more gear.”CFC is also facing a need for more than $30,000 to replace 1,000 feet of firehose that failed testing, and to purchase 10 sets of turnout gear. It costs $2,500 to outfit just one firefighter to required standards.In their “spare” time, the volunteers look for ways to save money. For instance, a 20-year-old ventilation fan was recently overhauled to look and work like new. A new one would cost about $500.“They put in a ton of sweat equity,” Callinan said. “There are guys here three or four nights a week. They recently welded up a very nice hose rack.”Savings? About $4,000.North Canaan homeowners and businesses save on insurance premiums thanks to the CFC. The town has an excellent rating, due in large part to the excellence of its fire department and the equipment its members keep in top condition.CFC officers believe they can gain much-needed support by letting people know exactly what is what. They put together a list of common beliefs, and CFC responses.One myth, for example, is the Canaan Fire Company’s budget is paid for by taxpayer dollars.The truth is there are only two small allocations from the town budget: funding for a pension fund and a set-aside to help pay for a new fire truck every 10 years.“We do this because we love to do this and help people,” Callinan said. “But people have got to help us.”The dance is Saturday, Feb. 18, 8 p.m. to midnight at North Canaan Elementary School. Tickets are available from CFC members or at the door. Setups are provided. It’s BYOB and guests may bring their own snack food. Donations may be sent to PO Box 642, North Canaan, CT 06018 or www.canaanfirecompany.org.