Bingo fans can find plenty of red-hot competition -- but not a puff of smoke -- during weekly bingo games at the air-conditioned Mount Airy Firemen's Activity Building.
A decision by the Mount Airy Fire Company resulted in the Tuesday evening fund-raisers going "smokeless" beginning in May, said bingo chairman Pierre Sabourin.
"It was something they had been considering (because) of health reasons -- for everybody, players and people working at the games," he said.
It wasn't an easy decision.
Mr. Sabourin explained that the benefits of having a smoke-free environment, which is a requirement at Mount Airy's new fire station, were weighed against the impact the decision might have on weekly bingo attendance.
"The threat was a number (of players) would not come back," he said. "Health took priority."
Bingo is an important source of income for Mount Airy's all-volunteer fire company. In the organization's fiscal 1992, the weekly bingo games brought in $57,590, representing nearly 10 percent of its income.
One of the driving recommendations for the change was the knowledge that bingo games sponsored by St. Michael's Catholic Church in nearby Lisbon, Howard County, had gone smokeless, explained Mr. Sabourin. "It gave us some confidence in that decision."
In May, the first price increase in several years was implemented in addition to the smoke-free policy. "It was overdue for a price adjustment," Mr. Sabourin said.
The bingo chairman noted that price increases may have contributed to a temporary decrease in patrons. He said weekly attendance averaged between 95 and 100 before May but dropped to 60 to 65 after the new prices and smoke-free policy were implemented.
Attendance now averages just under 80, he said.
"I think things are starting to come back," he said. "We're not that far off from what is a normal attendance for this time of year."
An example of the price changes is the cost of six cards for regular games, which increased from $1 to $2, but still is competitive with other area bingo games, Mr. Sabourin said.
To compensate for price increases, cash prizes also were increased. The pay-out for a regular game jumped from $40 to $50, he added.
The jackpot for the cover-all specialty game was increased from $500 to $1,000, with no increase in cost to the participant, and the consolation prize increased from $100 to $250.
An evening consists of 34 games, including 14 regular games and a variety of specialty games. It ends with a winner-take-all that usually pays between $200 to $250. A 15-minute intermission is held during the evening when patrons are invited to go outside to smoke if they wish.
The doors to the Firemen's Activity Building open at 6 p.m. each Tuesday, with the exception of two weeks during the year when carnivals are held on the grounds. Sandwiches, desserts and snacks, which are provided by the fire company's auxiliary, are sold.
Early bird games are held before the official start of the games at 7 p.m. The evening usually ends by 10:30 p.m.
"Our doors are open and everyone is welcome," said Mr. Sabourin. "We allow children to come play with their parents, [but] winnings must go the parents."
Bright lights, lively music and delicious aromas will beckon area residents to the Winfield firemen's carnival beginning Monday.
The weeklong fund-raiser that continues through July 17 kicks off with the Miss Winfield Fire Prevention contest on Monday evening. Tuesday's main event is the annual Firemen's Parade that starts at 7 p.m. at Green's Hardware and continues down West Old Liberty Road to the carnival grounds.
A free fireworks display is scheduled for Friday. Saturday will be the night of grand drawings. Patrons can buy a chance of winning one of seven cash prizes for only $1 with $3,000 as the top jackpot in the fire company raffle.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be ride-all-night events for $8. (Two-dollar discount coupons will be available at the Winfield Fire House and Little George's Convenience Stores prior to the start of the carnival.)
Nightly toe-tapping entertainment will be provided by: "Paradise Club" on Monday; "Free Wheeling" on Tuesday; "Branded" on Wednesday; "Admirals" on Thursday; "Dixie Highway" on Friday; and "Silver Wings" on Saturday.
One of the biggest draws of the annual carnival continues to be the tasty vittles served on the grounds and in Winfield's air-conditioned hall. Platters will be served at the hall every evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Homemade soups and crab cakes, all made fresh daily, will be featured, as well as pit beef.
The carnival, which is the major fund-raiser of the fire department, features free admission and parking. It will be located at the carnival grounds at 1320 W. Old Liberty Road, next to South Carroll High.