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Community fundraising helps Pa. FD purchase new fire engine

West Leechburg firefighters have a new custom-sized engine-tanker with a larger tank

By Joyce Hanz
The Valley News-Dispatch

WEST LEECHBURG, Pa. — West Leechburg Volunteer Fire Department officials are ramping up fundraising to pay for a new custom firefighting vehicle.

The department purchased a 2023 Pierce Saber Tanker for $572,000 using two loans, one from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the other from Kansas State Bank.

The new truck replaces a 30-year-old vehicle that had a limited water load capacity of 1,250 gallons.

“The new truck woudn’t have happened without the members doing fundraisers like our gun bash, cash bash, Fireman’s Festival and various ticket sales this year, along with our community donations and fund drive,” Chief Chris Swank said.

“We did it to help provide the community with better service.”

The new tanker truck has a 1,500-gallon capacity and has already been in service for three emergency calls.

“That was good — no issues yet,” Swank said. “We can make a good, initial fire attack.”

Custom-made to accommodate the borough garage where it’s housed, the new truck measures 31 feet, 11 inches long and a little over 9 feet tall.

“We’re restricted on our height and length here because of the size of the garage — the borough lets us use this building. If we had purchased a used truck, it’s hard to find the height we needed. This was custom-made to fit under the 9-feet, 6-inch garage,” Swank said.

Two potential buyers have inquired about the old KME pumper tanker, and proceeds from the sale will be applied to the new truck balance, Swank said.

The fire company is asking $32,000 for the 1993 vehicle — which cost $190,000 when purchased — and so far, offers have hovered around the $20,000 mark.

With only 11 active volunteer firefighters, the small but dedicated group plans to raise funds with a renewed energy this year, after several years of covid-induced hardships.

“If you have the time, any spare time, please call and volunteer,” Swank said. “Back in the day, we would have, like, 75 members. We’re always accepting new members.”

Volunteer Morgan Swank, Chris’ wife, said there’s much more that volunteers can contribute, in addition to fighting fires.

“You don’t have to run into a burning house to fight a fire,” she said. “The gun bash is the biggest fundraiser, I think, because our communities are in the woods area and into firearms and everything.”

The department also raises money by renting its large recreation hall, which can accommodate up to 500 guests. A full-hall rental costs $800.

The facility is open to the public and can be booked by messaging the department on its Facebook page.

The average annual operating cost for the department is about $35,000.

Assistant Chief Mike Ribet coordinates the department’s fundraising efforts. The gun bash, scheduled for Feb. 24 , typically raises more than $25,000.

“We’re trying to raise as much as possible this year,” Ribet said. “If we don’t fundraise, we can’t pay for that truck.”

In 2023, the fire company responded to 93 calls, including mutual aid calls to surrounding areas such as Allegheny Township, Avonmore, Leechburg and Upper Burrell.

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