ROYALTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - All 26 fire departments in Berrien County are passing around helmets, boots and cones. They are trying to fill anything they can with donations. The money is going to pay for a new piece of training equipment they say is desperately needed.
Every dollar matters for Chief Gary Maynard with St Joseph Township's volunteer fire department. Saturday he is standing at the corner of Maiden Lane and Lincoln Road collecting donations in an orange traffic cone. “Good morning folks, we appreciate it,” he says to a woman who just dropped a dollar bill inside.
Maynard is one of the 26 chiefs in Berrien County that, together, just won a $400,000 federal grant to pay for training equipment the county has never seen. “If I bring somebody to my fire department it could be some time before they actually see fire. You have to rely on having a house fire or a business fire, unfortunately,” he says of the current training conditions.
With the grant they can buy a live-burn facility to simulate a fire. To pay for it, the county's departments need to match $100,000.
“Every nickel is going to a good cause,” says Ron Kobel with Royalton Township Fire Department. Saturday they set up a booth to collect donations outside Rogers Grocery Story on Hollywood Road.
He says the county is lucky to get the grant. Twenty two of the twenty six departments are volunteer so to match the grant, fundraising is the only option. “We have a good budget to operate on. We’ve got good equipment as do most communities in Berrien County, but training is the issue,” says Kobel.
Kobel and Maynard say if the departments can raise the money all of Berrien County will see the benefit.
The deadline to get the $100,000 is December 1st. As of Saturday, fundraising efforts had gotten the pot half-way there.