CHESTER - For the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, 2013 was a busy year in every way but fire calls.
It was the first year to show a decline in total alarms since 2007, and the total amount of fire damage in the city was the lowest it's been since 2007, according to the fire department's 2013 annual report.
"That's a good thing," longtime Fire Chief John Hissam said. "I can remember when we used to have 10 to 12 fire calls a year. Now we're down to three or four. We hope that part of it continues."
GETTING READY TO CELEBRATE — The Chester Volunteer Fire Department is celebrating its centennial this year with an old-time carnival scheduled for June 23-28. -- Stephen Huba
However, Hissam noted that medical first-responder calls continue to be on the rise - a fact he attributes partly to Chester's aging population.
"We're required to have more training to handle the different things that come along. It just keeps growing exponentially, by the numbers we have," he said.
Chester VFD responded to 180 non-fire emergency calls in 2013 - out of a total of 221 alarms, the report said. The majority of those were medical first-responder calls.
There were no significant structure fires in Chester in 2013, and total fire damage was estimated at only $17,500 - compared to $72,500 in 2012, $128,000 in 2011 and $420,000 in 2010, the report said.
The 2013 damage was limited to a basement fire in the 100 block of Montana Avenue that was quickly contained and a vehicle fire involving a tow truck at Chaney's Service Station, according to the report. There were no injuries in either fire.
The basement fire was later investigated as an arson in which criminal charges were filed, the report said.
Another intentionally set fire happened at the old T.K. Roofing property and was contained to the debris in the structure, the report said. There was no fire loss, despite the fact that debris was intentionally ignited in several parts of the former plant.
But 2013 was a busy year in other ways, as the Chester VFD prepares to celebrate its centennial this year.
Construction on a new 45-by-45-foot, two-story addition began in June and is expected to be completed by this spring. The addition, connected to a 2005 addition, will house three bays on the first floor and storage space on the second floor.
The bays will be used as a wash area, as well as storage space for rescue boats and the department's new fire prevention trailer. The latter, also known as a "Kids Safety House," was purchased used for $16,000 in September.
Two other vehicles figured prominently in 2013 - a battery-powered, six-seat vehicle purchased for $10,000 in June and a new rescue truck that is currently on order.
In October 2013, Chester VFD opened three sealed bids for the rescue truck and awarded the contract to HME Inc., of Wyoming, Mich., which bid $379,500.
The truck, which is expected to be ready for delivery by September, will replace the department's 1989 rescue truck. The vehicle is used on all medical calls and auto accident runs. It contains, among other things, medical supplies, rescue tools and an air bottle filling station.
The fire department is able to make such purchases with money from its annual Fall Bash, Hissam said. The 2013 Fall Bash was the most successful in 12 years, raising an estimated $400,000, he said.
Hissam attributed the success to the addition of a third, "platinum" ticket. A $50 ticket, it allowed one player to win $250,000 and a $50,000 bonus if present.
The net gaming revenue from the Fall Bash covers about 80 percent of the Chester VFD's annual budget, Hissam said. The balance comes from fees collected from the Station 6 Storage Rental units on U.S. Route 30 and city, county and state sources.
In 2013, the department's budget included $585,000 in expenditures and $660,000 in revenue.
This year's Fall Bash is scheduled for Sept. 19-20 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort. The department also hopes to raise more money by adding 50 storage units this spring and four billboards, Hissam said.
The big focus of the year, however, is the department's 100th anniversary celebration, scheduled for June 23-28. "We want to have an old-time carnival like we used to have," Hissam said.
The week-long celebration will include a carnival on Fourth Street, with amusement rides, food and game stands, a parade, live entertainment and fireworks, he said.
Anyone interested in being in the parade, being a vendor or providing entertainment should call the fire department at 304-387-1690 and leave a message.
Also this year, the fire department plans to cover the cost of installing a handicapped ramp at the south entrance to Chester City Park. The department holds the title to the park and leases the park to the city, which operates it through a park board.
Ward 2 City Councilman John "Woody" Woodruff praised the Chester VFD following fire department Secretary Brian Handley's presentation of the annual report earlier this week.
"I think we have an excellent fire department," Woodruff said.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)