It is no secret that the fire service must fight for every dollar it gets from council. However, not gone are the days of "fundraising." I find the term "fundraising" somewhat old, outdated and reminiscent of days gone by when fire departments had to fundraise just to survive. Today's volunteer (and even composite) fire service must continue in becoming creative and "business-like" on how it approaches its quest for extra funds.
Many fire departments have a firefighters association that, among other things, raises money to support local charities, community projects and tools for their own use to improve the fire/rescue tasks not supported by their municipal or regional council in the capital budget. Many projects are long coming due to a monetary shortfall, and some are curtailed or abandoned due to lack of ambition, commitment, community support or perhaps all three.
How is this resolved and is there a solution? I say yes. My service is a very large composite fire department with eleven stations, 243 volunteer firefighters and five senior officers that are full-time. Norfolk County Fire/Rescue protects 62,000 people in a mainly rural setting of southwestern Ontario on Lake Erie. Our service is only five years old due to an amalgamation and, like most other new municipalities, we struggle to be progressive, deal with strong personalities, have a diverse staff and so on.
Of our volunteer staff, 22 stand apart - they are approved Fire Safety Educators. A distinct title and compensation awaits these, over and above, individuals who deliver day-to-day fire safety education in addition to answering some 800 to 900 calls a year (department wide).
Our municipal council is committed to an aggressive vehicle replacement policy that will modernize our fleet of 38 frontline apparatus and several reserve trucks. Council, however, could not approve expending $60,000 for a fire safety trailer so wanted by the educators.
With this, a decision was made to embark on a journey that would bear fruit beyond even our own expectations and here's how it was done. First of all, the educators unanimously agreed to acquire a fire safety trailer. This is one of the most important parts -- collaboration from within. The goal was set: to purchase a fire education tool, the trailer, but how? Next, we knew we needed a lot of money to make this happen and the only apparent way was to raise it ourselves through fundraising. We thought about the usual: bingos, barbeques, dances, raffles, service clubs, etc. Instead we came up with a plan to seek "Community Partners," and develop a strategy to hand-pick business partners from where we work, play and live.
A committee was formed to set the draft specifications and search out our needs for the trailer. A business plan was also drafted that gave clear direction of exactly how we would initiate our approach to creating our community partners. This was not fundraising in the traditional sense; we were looking for supporters who were not just looking for a tax break, but those who actually believed in this cause, to educate children and adults about the dangers of fire.
We then designed a marketing package that detailed the "who, what, when, where and how" this plan would work. Next, we invited a small group of those hand-picked businesses to a luncheon at our headquarters in Simcoe and explained our plan using a well-prepared multi-media presentation. We allowed them to comment, ask questions or even criticize our proposal. We immediately had several interested potential partners. These had only a few questions, and we were able to easily assure them because we had done our homework beforehand.
With this encouraging information from the interested partners, we were able to present to council our plan and they gave us permission to proceed with our plan, but it was stipulated there would be no financial backing from them. They were already
committed to a very aggressive front-line apparatus replacement initiative and acquiring a fire safety trailer did not fit in to the immediate future capital expenditures.
With our plan approved, we set forth sending out and personally dropping off our marketing package. We also offered a presentation to anyone (a company) that wanted to hear our pitch. This also generated considerable interest and funds started coming in.
One of the key things is to know what criteria organizations have in order for them to donate funds to a cause. Some require that their money be used for education, some require that children have to benefit and still some others require that the money must stay within the municipality or all of the above. Fortunately, a fire safety trailer fits these criteria.
Within 14 months we received approximately $80,000 with $15,000 alone coming from a local insurance company, Norfolk Mutual, $10,000 from a local grocery chain, $15,000 from our fire station associations, and many other donations ranging from $32 - raised by two girls in my neighbourhood who sold lemonade - and up. In our marketing proposal we assured each donation over $1,000 would be recognized on the trailer with their company logo.
We've now ordered the trailer (Surrey was awarded the bid) and are almost complete with the tow vehicle, a surplus ambulance (also bought from the raised funds), now painted red and fitted with the proper trailer hitch.
This project was a complete success and will be appreciated by our municipality for years. I give much credit to our fire department members, all 11 stations and their various associations who were sold on this idea from the beginning. Thanks also goes to our Fire Chief Denys Prevost and Deputy Fire Chief Rick Shafto for all their support.
Ken Sheridan is the fire prevention officer with the Norfolk County (Ont.) Fire & Rescue. He can be reached at
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