Area fireworks celebrations that normally benefit local volunteer departments have joined the long list of cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The loss of the fundraisers is hampering budgets of already financially strapped departments as the community misses out on events that have become traditions.
The Saunders Volunteer Fire Company has been hosting a July 4 celebration for decades. It is the department’s largest fundraiser in addition to other efforts such as community dinners.
“With the loss of the fireworks and the dinners we have done, with those being gone, we are going to have to do some real belt tightening,” said John Honaker, treasurer of Saunders Volunteer Fire Company. “We normally do our fish dinners for between 260 to almost 300 people coming through. We really serve a good dinner, and people look forward to them. It is a community thing.”
Honaker said the loss of these fundraisers will cost the department more than $20,000, an enormous chunk of its annual budget. Most of the Smith Mountain Lake area is served by volunteer fire and rescue departments. The only government support the department receives comes from Bedford County.
County support varies by the number of calls, and it is not enough to run the department, Honaker said.
“One of the things with volunteer fire departments is you spend so much time with the calls and training, then when you have to add fundraising to that to support your activities, it’s a lot,” Honaker said.
Recently the department had to purchase a new brush truck and did not receive any assistance from the county, Honaker said. The truck is a necessity because in the area the department services, along with the Huddleston Volunteer Fire Department, there are a lot of mountainous areas that are susceptible to brush fires.
“Right now, it’s just important people support their volunteer departments, and I am saying that for all volunteers both fire and rescue,” Honaker said, adding that financial donations are the easiest way to support area departments.
“We do need volunteers,” he said. “They don’t have to be firefighters; they can be administrators, they can fix things or clean. It’s a lot of work to run a department.”
Honacker is a member of Saunders, but he has also volunteered for the Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire Department. “It’s just something I’ve done for the past 20-some years,” he said.
The cost of this pandemic, both monetarily and emotionally, is still being tallied, and it likely will be years before the impact is realized, but Honaker has noticed the stress it has put on local volunteers.
“I know the rescue squads are just running all the time,” he said. “I don’t know how they do it, and the fire department supports them in a lot of ways.”
The Moneta Volunteer Fire Department has also canceled its Independence Day fireworks celebration, which also is one of its major fundraisers. The department did not respond to comments before press time, however.
Area residents can find information on donating to or becoming a volunteer with Saunders Volunteer Fire Company at svfc-10.com. Information on the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department can be found at monetafire.com.