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Fredonia fire fund drive switches gears

‘Different situation’

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce From left are Julius Leone, Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department president, Kurt Maytum, acting chief, and Chuck Ortolano, fund drive chairman.

As the months of May and June roll around, village of Fredonia and the town of Pomfret residents can typically expect members of the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department to come around for their yearly fund drive. But last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund drive was canceled entirely, and while the fund drive is back on for this year, it will look different than it has in the past.

“We typically conduct our fund drive door to door in the month of June, but because of COVID there was no way we were going to ask our firemen to go door to door last year, and people shouldn’t be opening their door for somebody strange,” said Julius Leone, the president of the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department. “We decided moving forward, because of COVID, that we wouldn’t solicit funds from residents door to door. Less than half the country is vaccinated, so we decided we’d switch gears and not ask residents door to door.”

There were other considerations for why the Fund Drive didn’t happen last year as well. They considered alternative methods last year, but ultimately decided that, because of COVID-19, village and town residents were in the midst of extreme financial uncertainty, which made the department put things in perspective.

“We looked at it this way,” Leone said. “A lot of people are unemployed. It gave people a year to catch their breath and try to get through the pandemic. Some people did send us money that knew it was fund drive time, but we recognized and respected that people were having a tough time. Hopefully it’s a different situation this year. It wouldn’t have been fair to residents of the town and the village. There were so many other things going on, and we needed to put it into perspective.”

This year, the fund drive is back on. However, in lieu of asking residents door to door though, the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department has decided to send out mailing forms to each resident of Pomfret and Fredonia, in order to keep both members of the Fire Department and the residents they protect as safe as possible, though sacrificing the personal aspect is something that they are disappointed to have to do.

“Our residents who wait for us in that first week of June won’t see us. The last couple years we’ve done partial mailing but we still went door to door. They saw us out on the streets. We hope residents understand that it’s for their safety and safety of our firefighters,” Leone said. “The sad part of that is we won’t be able to talk to our residents. We get a lot of feedback, whether that be praise or concerns. We’re going to miss that one to one contact with our residents. I think it’s important people see the people that are protecting them.”

The Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department’s annual fund drive has been a door-to-door tradition for the last 50 years, and it is the only time during a year where they ask their residents for money. It being the only time per year is a source of pride for the department.

“Some departments do different things like car washes or barbeques,” Leone said. “But it’s always been our rule to only ask once per year, and we’ve prided ourselves on that fact.”

Money raised from the fund drive is immediately put into buying new equipment for the Department, which can range anywhere from cardiac monitors to flash lights, and anything in between.

“It’s a very important piece of what we do,” said Acting Fredonia Fire Chief Kurt Maytum. “Because those are things that we buy that the village doesn’t necessarily provide us funds for.”

In addition to equipment for the trucks, the Fire Department is also looking to put emergency equipment in other places where risks for accidents could be higher. Recently they purchased an automatic defibrillator, which will be placed in the Fredonia Opera House. Members of the Fire Department will also train the staff at the Opera House and Village Hall to use the defibrillator should an emergency present itself.

“We go beyond putting things on fire trucks and ambulances. We put them in places where there’s higher risk for people to go into cardiac arrest,” Leone said. “Those are the kind of things we do to keep on the cutting edge and go above and beyond. Village and town budgets are tough these days, so we try to pick up the slack where we can.”

Another project that the Fire Department paid for was the blue and white reflective signs that can be found outside residences in the town of Pomfret. The department paid for the installation of the signs, and continues to pay for the upkeep should one of them get damaged. These signs are vital to the protection of residents, in case of emergencies.

“It makes it a lot easier for us when we’re driving out on Chautauqua Road at midnight to find the address because it’s right in front of the house,” Maytum said. “It also helps in the snow because it pops in the headlights.”

It’s so important for those residents, because it cuts down minutes,” Leone added. “It is so easy to be in a hurry and drive by a residence, but we can save minutes easily. Minutes are a matter of life and death in this case, so we have to save them where we can.”

The Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department is a 501(c)(3), meaning that any donations to them are tax deductible, and all of the money given to them is poured directly back into helping the people that live in the area. Not having the fund drive last year impacted some of the things the department was able to do, though because of COVID-19, calls were down.

“It curtailed a lot of what we did, but with COVID, there wasn’t a lot going on at the hall,” said Vice President of the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department and Chairman of the Fund Drive Chuck Ortolano. “Calls were down, but things are starting to get back to normal with calls now.”

Residents can expect to receive the fund drive mail starting on May 17, with a letter attached further explaining the shift from the in person drive to the mail one. And though they are asking again this year, they are still understanding that the financial impacts of COVID-19 are still heavily felt.

“We, like everyone else who were financially impacted by COVID. are trying to recover a little,” Leone said. “For the people that can afford it, we certainly appreciate anything they can do for us. Anything given to us will be given back.”

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