YOUNGSTOWN – With the loss of rides, Youngstown Fire Company’s popular Field Days on Labor Day weekend will be reduced to a beer tent with music, food and gaming over just two evenings.
Also eliminated is the traditional Labor Day parade – both developments considered a significant blow to this 103-year-old organization and the community.
Greg Robertson Sr., a fire company trustee, said, “We didn’t want to get away from having a family event, but it would hurt us if we had nothing at all. We didn’t want to change it to just a drinking event, but we didn’t want to give up our biggest fundraiser of the year, so we had to go with what we could.”
When Field Days was a three-day event and included rides, it earned “in the $20,000 range” for the fire company, said Robertson, who said the fire company also is concerned about the impact the scaled-down event will have on community organizations that raise money by setting up booths or parking cars.
Robertson said Hammerl Amusements, which provided the rides the past few years, will return to Clarence for its fire company’s Field Days, also over Labor Day weekend.
“We have been calling all over, looking for other ride companies these past few months,” said Robertson, who learned of Hammerl’s decision in January. “But with these smaller ride companies, as the owners get older they are selling out to larger companies, and the larger companies aren’t interested in Youngstown anymore. They are taking their rides out of state, and most are traveling South. It’s changed a lot over the years.”
He said the fire company considered moving its Field Days to another weekend, like it did in 2009 and 2010, when it held the event in late July.
“We moved that weekend before, and it didn’t go over very well,” he said. “It just isn’t the same if it isn’t held on the traditional Labor Day weekend. People like to come back to Youngstown that weekend to see their friends. It didn’t have the same feeling (holding it in July), and it wasn’t that well-attended, so we didn’t want to try that again.”
Field Days has been a Youngstown staple since the early 1900s, when the event began as a picnic for firefighters at Fort Niagara.
The company has struggled to stage the event in its entirety over the past several years. It was canceled in 2008 because of a lack of amusement rides and returned in late July in 2009 and 2010, then returned to Labor Day in 2011, marking the company’s 100th anniversary. That tradition continued in 2012 and last year.
“And without the Field Days, there won’t be a Labor Day parade, because it costs us between $5,000 and $6,000 to put on the parade, and we can’t justify the cost,” Robertson said. “Without an event to bring in the families, we can’t justify it. A lot of people don’t realize the cost of the parade. They think people just show up and march. But we had to pay for bands and prizes.”
The scaled-back Field Days also will spell the end of the popular chowder sale at the fire hall.
“It takes two days to cook, and there will be no crowd for it,” Robertson said.
This year’s Field Days will start at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29, and continue at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, in Veterans Park. The beer tent also will feature food, live music with the bands 90 West and Teasers, and gaming. It will be open to those age 18 and older, although patrons must be 21 to drink alcohol.
“Hopefully, this will start a new tradition for us, and the community will come out and support us, because all of the money we make goes right back into the fire company,” Robertson said.
The fire company answers 350 fire and emergency medical service calls per year, he said. It also provides EMS and fire police traffic control for charity foot and bicycle races in the area, as well as fire truck rides at Youngstown Recreation Department events, including the Community Picnic.
“We’ll still be involved with the community,” Robertson said.
The company also holds two sportsmen raffles each year, in the spring and fall, as well as a golf tournament in August. Tickets, at $25 apiece, are currently available for the April 27 luncheon and sportsmen raffle drawing in the fire hall.
“We just authorized the purchase of a new ambulance at our meeting this week, and it will be here in six months,” Robertson said. “We raised the money for that during all of the fundraisers we’ve been holding over the years. It cost $145,000, and it was completely funded by donations. Our old ambulance is about 14 years old.”