Local Fire Chiefs Warn of Solicitation Letter

EXETER, Pa. -- You may have received a letter seeking volunteers and money for local fire departments. Local chiefs are warning that some of those solicitations should be thrown away.

The letter is legal, but chiefs of local volunteer departments in northern Luzerne County call them misleading and say if many of their donors sent money because of the mailer, it could cost these volunteer departments money they desperately need.

The Exeter and Wyoming Hose Company share a fire station and a need for volunteers and money, so when a group based in Tennessee, with a Topeka, Kansas mailing address, sent letters to people in their boroughs, the chief of Wyoming Hose Company #1 took it as a four-alarm warning.

"We never heard of them," said Chief Tom Skilonger.

Chief Skilonger showed us the letter from the Volunteer Firefighter Alliance. It claims to help local departments through recruitment, writing, "Volunteer fire departments across the nation are facing a real crisis because fewer and fewer people are volunteering."

Then it reads, "If you're not able to serve as a volunteer, help by sending us your donation for $10, $15, or even $25, $50, or more."

"To me, that says they're just looking for money, they don't care about the volunteers. They just want the money," Chief Skilonger said.

Volunteers are so hard to find that Exeter Hose and Wyoming Hose Company #1 have considered a merger and calling itself the Wyoming Area Fire Company.

That's exactly what this solicitation letter appears to be raising money for.

The Volunteer Fire Alliance is a registered nonprofit organization, but it's financial records are not available online.

"If you do not know who it came from, do not send them any money," advised West Wyoming Assistant Fire Chief Lee Hampton.

The chief fears the letters for the Wyoming area could confuse regular donors, especially when his department is set to launch its own fundraising efforts in the fall.

"It is concerning because the community is what pays for all our equipment," said Chief Hampton.

By phone, the executive director of the Volunteer Firefighter Alliance tells Newswatch 16 this is part of a national mailer, designed to get more volunteers by raising money to run television and radio public service announcements.

One other note: this mailer seeking volunteer firefighters was sent to a man in his early 80s.