Fish fry helps feed fire budget

Published 5:16 am Monday, April 10, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
POKAGON TOWNSHIP - The tiny kitchen of the Pokagon Township Fire Department was packed. The room that should only hold four or five was crammed with seven or eight people piling foam plates with fried Alaskan white fish and baked potatoes.
Finding volunteers for the Friday night fish fry was not a problem. Both firefighters and their families were busy helping cook and deliver food, as well as collect money and keep coffee and punch pitchers full.
Given the rising cost of fire services, Dohm said the fire department has cost the township and its citizens very little in the past decade.
The department receives $35,000 from the township as an annual operating budget and adds to that by hosting four or five fish fries from February to May.
Dohm said anything that is not spent is tossed back into a sinking fund.
Dohm, who is also the chairman of the Pokagon Township operations board, said Friday's dinner could bring in anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500.
Finding help for the monthly fish fries has not been much of a problem. But, like many other township fire departments, Pokagon could use some extra hands fighting fires.
Pokagon Township currently has 13 volunteers to operate two class A pumpers and a brush truck.
He added the number of Pokagon volunteer firefighters has dipped to as low as 8 and up to as high as 25 in his 12 years with the department. Pokagon also relies on mutual aid, such as extra water, from neighboring departments like Dowagiac.
The decrease in volunteer firefighters is not just a regional or state problem. Across the nation, the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by 10 percent over the last 20 years. All the while, emergency calls continue to increase.
Having firefighters available during the day is part of the problem. Some of the current volunteers work out of the area in places like South Bend and Granger, Ind. and can only respond in the evening.
The Pokagon department responds to around 35 to 40 calls each year, and, volunteers are also asked to attend weekly meetings, Dohm said.
But, no matter how small the department, Dohm said each member is required to complete a Firefighter 1 class on his or her own time. The course requires more than 150 class hours of work and it must be completed within two years of volunteering for the force.
Dohm said any volunteer firefighter who joins the force is placed on a six month probation period. They can respond to emergency calls but are required to complete the Firefighter 1 course, which is paid for by the department, prior to entering a burning structure.
There is little in the way of money for all of the training and extra hours because Pokagon Township is also one of the few departments in the area that does not compensate its firefighters, Dohm said.
But, Dohm said he thinks it will take more than free clothing to attract new members.
The department has talked to the township about distributing fliers in an attempt to draw more volunteers to the force. The next fish fry for Pokagon Township Fire Department is May 5.