Danville is celebrating its heritage this week, even if most of it is online.
Still, the spirit is there. Danvillians are proud of their history, the community’s place in the forging of iron, the rolling of T-rails for railroads. According to local historian, teacher and singer-songwriter Van Wagner, Montour Iron Company in Danville rolled out the first T-rail in America on Oct. 8, 1845.
Wagner wrote in a piece posted on the Danville Business Alliance website, “Danville’s T-rails have been confirmed as being used to build at least some of the transcontinental railroad.”
It is well known that the iron and coal business that brought George F. Geisinger financial success led to the construction of the Danville area’s best known landmark. After Geisinger’s death, his wife, Abigail, built Geisinger Hospital, which opened in 1915.
Just as Geisinger’s health system and its essential lifesaving service is an important part of the area’s history, so, too, are local volunteer firefighters.
The keyword is volunteer. That means they spend endless hours training, respond to alarms for fires, vehicle crashes and other human disasters at all hours, day or night, torn from their homes, awakened from sleep to save someone’s property or someone’s life, all for free.
Paying them would be expensive for municipalities and, ultimately, taxpayers. They know that and they still do it for free, as they have for nearly 200 years. (Friendship Fire Company, Danville’s oldest, turns 179 this year.)
Unfortunately, fire companies’ equipment, fuel, utility and maintenance bills are not free. Though they receive some money from governments and donations, most of the companies’ income comes from the money they raise through their social clubs, bars, food sales, bingo, gun raffles, carnivals and park rentals.
The local fire companies took a hit for the three months they were closed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. They, like most businesses, lost money and had to lay off employees.
As we reported last week, local fire companies in Danville, Mahoning Township and Riverside lost tens of thousands of dollars during the three-month shutdown, money they need to pay fuel and utility bills. East End Fire Company in the township has had to hold off on buying some supplies, as well as doing some upkeep, said Fire Chief Leslie Young.
Young said the company lost an estimated $25,000 in social club revenue during the shutdown.
Danville’s Washington Fire and Hose Company President Don Lutz III estimated the company lost between $6,000 and $8,000 a week in social club and bingo revenue. Lutz said the Washies also will lose thousands of dollars by canceling one of its two annual “gun parties,” where they raffle off guns.
Fire Chief Nick Fowler, of Southside Fire Company in Riverside, said that company probably lost $30,000 from bar revenue, and at least $50,000 from a combination of the carnival, wine fest and park rentals that all were canceled.
Fowler said the fire company pays $180,000 in fuel, utilities and other expenses a year.
The story was similar at other companies.
This is a difficult time for everybody. Firefighters know that. They are going through it, too. Still, they are there, ready to help on short notice.
If it’s possible to show your appreciation with a donation, do so. If not, at least practice safety, eliminate fire hazards, make sure your smoke alarms work and drive safely.
Every little bit helps.