The COVID-19 pandemic is posing a serious threat to fire company budgets throughout Carroll County, with their annual carnivals in jeopardy.
Fire company carnivals from May to August are usually a highlight of the summer in Carroll County as residents play games, eat funnel cake, enjoy time with their family and community — and, crucially, spend money that goes straight into the hands of the fire companies running the show.
With the number of infections and deaths resulting from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continuing to rise, it remains far from certain that these carnivals will be able to be held as normal — or at all. Under orders from Gov. Larry Hogan, Marylanders must stay at home when not retrieving food or doing other essential functions, businesses have closed their doors, and events have been canceled, all in the hopes of limiting the spread of the virus.
The pandemic has even led Carroll County to put on hold the hiring of its first fire and emergency medical services director. The position is not subject to a county hiring freeze beginning May 1, but the county commissioners are choosing to delay hiring for the position for now.
The New Windsor Fire Department and the Union Bridge Fire Company have canceled their carnivals, and the Gamber and Community Fire Company has postponed its carnival, while others have yet to make a final decision. The Harney Volunteer Fire Company and Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department could not be reached for comment on this article.
The Union Bridge Fire Company decided to cancel its carnival, leaving a gap in its funding outlook.
“It’s going to affect it, probably, a good bit because what we’ve done is the fire company has canceled all activities until July 31,” Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones said. “It’s going to be very devastating to us. I think President [Eugene Curfman] said it’s going to be somewhere around $65,000 to $70,000 profit that the fire department couldn’t make in the next couple of months. It’s going to really hurt our budget, it’s going to hurt our paid employees that we have.”
Jones said they are going to have to find other ways to make the remainder of the money that the department needs, but that will be difficult because they will have to compete with other fire companies’ activities that are also being affected due to COVID-19.
The fire company has not finalized what other activities might serve to replace the ones lost by cancellation forced by the pandemic.
The New Windsor Fire Department’s Board of Directors held a meeting on April 13 to discuss the status of upcoming department events in light of the current restrictions resulting from the pandemic.
According to statement from the department, the board unanimously voted to cancel all department fundraising events. These cancellations go beyond the department’s carnival — the annual Crab Feed, scheduled for July, is also off the calendar.
However, “We are in relatively good financial shape and should be okay,” said New Windsor Councilman Ed Palsgrove, who is also the department’s public information officer.
According to Palsgrove, the department has a joint fundraising project with the Harney Volunteer Fire Company called a Big Money Bonanza. According to the department’s website, the event, which is scheduled for Aug. 22 but is currently sold out, will feature all-you-can-eat pit beef, pit ham, pit turkey, chicken and more.
“That will create a significant amount of revenue, probably won’t replace all of the funds that we would’ve raised at the carnival, but some of it.”
The Gamber and Community Fire Company decided to postpone its carnival and is considering a date in September, though nothing has been finalized.
“We’re the first carnival of the season, so we’re not sure yet whether this social distancing will have been lifted by the time our carnival starts,” said Clay Myers, public information officer for the Gamber fire company.
The fire company is still planning to hold its raffle, which residents can purchase now by either picking them up at the fire station or by ordering tickets to be sent to their address. The fire company plans to select the winner at the carnival, when it’s held on its postponed dates.
According to Myers, the fire department also has had to cancel multiple bingo events it was planning to host.
The Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company has not made a decision on whether to cancel its carnival.
Doug Alexander, public information officer for the fire company, said April 21 they have already experienced a moderate financial loss due to the pandemic.
“So far this year, we’ve already lost over $20,000 of income; that’s from fundraisers that we weren’t able to have, loss of rentals of our reception halls, our grounds and our meeting room, so we’ve lost over $20,000 dollars there,” Alexander said.
According to Alexander, the company has more upcoming events that are looking likely to be canceled as well, including their chicken barbecue and a breakfast, both scheduled for May.
Alexander said the loss of the carnival would be a “major league hit” to the company’s budget.
“We usually profit somewhere in the neighborhood of about $90,000 to $100,000 on our carnival,” Alexander said. “Without that this year, that’s a big, big hit on our budget. Without our carnival and without our spring fundraisers, we’ve taken a real major hit.”
To counteract the loss of these funds, the company has been able to cut some expenses, and they are brainstorming some other fundraisers to plan for this fall, though they aren’t sure if even those will be possible due to current uncertainty, according to Alexander.
For now, the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company still plans to hold its carnival, but will reconsider after May 1.
The fire company has canceled one of its planned raffle dinners, according to Mike Glass, public information officer for the fire company.
The company also announced on its website that it will postpone its Shrimp Feed to a later date, though it’s not yet clear when.
The Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department has not made a decision on whether it will cancel its carnival, and most likely won’t make a decision until May.
No other fundraising plans to make up for a cancellation of the carnival as of April 21.
The loss of funds they would have earned from the carnival, if it’s canceled, would affect the department in multiple ways, according to Kevin Shiloh, department president. That loss of revenue would complicate paying to keep equipment up and running, make loan payments, conduct maintenance and make future purchases, he said.
The fire department has rescheduled its Sportsman’s Giveaway for Sept. 12.
The Manchester Volunteer Fire Company has not made a decision on whether to cancel its carnival.
“We depend a lot on that to keep our operation going on, and without those funds it’s really going to put a damper on, not only our department, but every department around the county,” Tim Schaeffer, spokesperson for the fire company, said April 21.
The company has canceled all bingo events until further notice, though they plan to postpone the Sportsman Bingo, originally scheduled for April 18, and its Crab Leg Feed, originally scheduled for March 14. The company does still plan to hold its Big Money Raffle scheduled for Aug. 8.
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The Reese and Community Fire Company has not made a decision on whether to cancel its carnival.
Robin Stansbury, chief information officer for the fire company, said April 21 the loss of the carnival would be big.
The department would be “looking at a major fundraising loss” if they cancel, and even though they aren’t yet sure about canceling, Stansbury said, it would be a “substantial loss.”
The Hampstead Volunteer Fire Company has not made a decision on whether to hold its carnival.
“We’re watching very closely, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to proceed with it, but just like everywhere, the safety of our members and the community is of upmost importance,” Chuck Fusco, fire company public information officer, said April 22. “We’re just going to continue to monitor it.”
All fire company events have been canceled or postponed through at least May 16.
According to Fusco, the company would take a financial hit losing the carnival, but they have plans to ensure they don’t have a gap in service for residents.