By John Burton
FAIR HAVEN – The borough firehouse on River Road is a sea of activity this week.
Men and women are cleaning and moving boxes, forklifts are lugging heavy items, trailers are being backed up with loud beeping sounds and then being unloaded.
The site is busy, similar to the energy and din of a construction project, all to prepare for the Aug. 23 start of this year’s edition of the annual Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair.
On this day, John Feeny, one of the three co-chairs of the fair committee, looks out over the buzz of activity and says, “It’s unbelievable how everyone knows his position and does it.”
The annual event, touted by the volunteer fire company’s members as the largest firemen’s fair in the state and the second largest fair of any kind in the state, is about to begin its eight-day run. It begins Friday, Aug. 23, and continues daily through Saturday – with the exception of Sunday, Aug. 25.
The event is a massive undertaking for department members, residents and others who volunteer – including some who now live out-of-state and travel back to the borough to help. All donate their time to make the event a success.
Feeny, along with co-chairs Jim Butler and Andy Schrank – all longstanding fire department members – talked earlier this week about what it takes to get the operation going each year.
There are various committees designated to oversee different parts of the fair: the rides, games and one of the largest operations for the endeavor – the huge amount of food that gets served over the course of the fair.
The running of the fair requires the efforts of about 125 volunteers each night to operate the various attractions. The attractions requiring the most effort is working the dining tent adjacent to the First Aid bays. The tent and bays can fit about 150 diners per seating who can select from a variety of seafood or “landlubber” dinners, prepared and served by volunteers. During the day, volunteers work on getting things ready for evening, including local kids who take on the responsibility of shucking corn.
While committee members couldn’t come up with the number of dinners served, Butler says, “It’s an amazing number.”
What’s also amazing is the amount of other food that gets eaten during the fair, they noted.
According to Butler, last year’s fairgoers consumed about 18,000 hot dogs and about the same number of hamburgers.
“The first night they smell so good,” Schrank said of the hot dogs, “but by the end you’re sick of them.”
Along with those offerings, ice cream is available and there is a beer garden for beer and wine for adults.
The operation of the fair involves a system that has been honed over the years, with volunteers working on what they know and like. That keeps the operation moving.
Schrank has been involved with the fair for 32 years; Feeny tops that with 40 years under his belt. Butler, who has been working with the fair “since I was a kid” and was one of the kids who helped shuck corn, totals his time at more than 35 years.
“We’ve been doing this so long it goes like clockwork,” Feeny said.
The rides are operated by employees of the Majestic Amusements Company of York, Pa. The games, which are set up by that vendor, are operated by the fire company members and other volunteers who are known faces to those wandering through the fair.
The organizing, including obtaining the required permits and working with vendors, is “all year long,” Schrank said. The work really gets going in June, when orders are placed. The days leading up to the fair are for setup and running it is the time for the sweat equity.
“The event is the department’s largest annual fundraiser, with proceeds going to support and supplement the approximately $30,000 annual department budget. The money helps buy needed equipment, vehicles and for the upkeep of the facility,” said Schrank, adding, “The cost of doing this is incredible.”
Perhaps even more than the money raised, the reason to continue the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair is that it has become an important tradition, woven into the fabric of the community, the three pointed out.
“I don’t think we ever thought about not doing it,” Schrank said.
Butler added, “It’s just part of what we do.”