The idea of volunteer fire departments originated in Pennsylvania and it's certainly a hallmark of the state: around 90 percent of Pa.'s fire departments are volunteer. But these departments are facing big challenges. Volunteer numbers are down and for many municipalities, funding is an ongoing headache.
"I wanted to join to fight fires, not to raise money"
If you live in a smaller municipality in Pennsylvania, you probably have a volunteer fire department, which means you've probably encountered fire department fundraising events: maybe a carnival, a boot drive, or even a wedding reception at a rented fire hall.
In Philipsburg, the Reliance Fire Company held a dance at the bingo hall recently. Sherry Smith volunteered to cook and sell food. She said she's there because it's a good cause — a cause that's worth community members' time.
"God forbid, if their house [were] burning down," she said, "the firefighter company would do everything in their power to make everybody safe."