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Fire department banks on lawn tractor attraction

ELLENBURG CENTER Matt LaBombard has been a member of the Ellenburg Center Volunteer Fire Department for 13 years. If there's one thing he's learned during his years of service, it's that you've got to come up with new and interesting ways to drum up support from the community. LaBombard, who has served as the department's chief for the past three years, joined his fellow firefighters Aug. 24 for the second annual Lawnmower Races, held behind the department on Church Street. The event, which featured participants mainly from Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, was something the department began last year as a way to raise money, he said. We needed to do something different for a fundraiser, LaBombard explained. Sometimes you can lose your shirt with a fundraiser, but this was something we thought would bring in a crowd. The chicken barbecues and collection drives that are visible throughout small communities like Ellenburg Center are effective, said LaBombard, but giving the people a more unique way to support the department has proven to get more attention. In a time when government mandates require firefighters to have more training and fire departments to have a certain amount of equipment, smaller departments like theirs need all the attention they can get, he said. Theres so much being placed on volunteers and the costs of things keep going up, said LaBombard. The cost of turnout gear for one firefighter alone is $2,000. When you multiply that by the 30 guys in our department, that adds up. When the department first hosted the Lawnmower Races last August, the weather was less than cooperative, said LaBombard. This year, however, sunny skies were on their side, leading LaBombard and his fellow volunteers to believe this could become a strong local tradition. This is something where we can really get the whole town involved, he said. Weve even got people here today watching that are from Mooers, Altona, Dannemora. Its nice to have people coming from across the county and even from out of the county for this. We would be nowhere without their support and the support of our town and our volunteers, LaBombard added. While the department seeks the financial support of those attending the Lawnmower Races, LaBombard said he hopes to get people interested in joining the department, too. When this fire department was set up 60 years ago, we had about 50-60 farmers in the area who were in the department. Everybody was home back then, he said. Nowadays, everyone works out of town. Even with 30 men, there's not enough help to go around during the day. We're hoping events like this would generate some interest in people becoming volunteers. The next fundraiser for the fire department will be held in September, said LaBombard. A harvest day featuring displays of antique tractors and plows by the Champlain Valley Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Association will be held on a day to be announced. The event will also include a special harvest meal, he said, all as another way to bring the community together while promoting the efforts of local firefighters. It's our responsibly to keep going what others before us started, LaBombard said.

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