BRUSH VALLEY — The local volunteer fire company’s signature barbecue chicken tent will be absent from the Indiana County Fair in August after a generation as not only a landmark meet-up point on the fairgrounds but as a favorite among the concessions for thousands of hungry fairgoers annually.
Social media spun into a tizzy Wednesday when Brush Valley Volunteer Fire Department announced on its Facebook page that it won’t be at the J.S. Mack Foundation park and fairgrounds for the 157th edition of Indiana County’s yearly agricultural exposition.
But the representatives of Station 230 soon clarified that the decision wasn’t entirely about the cost imposed by the fair organization but the other costs assumed by the fire department for the event.
“Due to the increased cost to set up at the Indiana County Fair, the decision has been made that our volunteer fire department will NOT be at the fair this year,” the original post went. “We would like to thank all of our fair patrons for their support over the years. A special thanks to all the community men and women who volunteered their time to help cook and serve.”
Pundit after pundit flamed the fair board for raising the rent.
But wait, fire officials added later.
“*** UPDATE – When referring to the set-up costs we took into consideration the vendor rental, tent rental, equipment costs, supply costs, and man hours for the week. Many of our members use their personal vacation days to volunteer during this week. Under no circumstance did we intend for this post to bash any organization in our county,” the department wrote on Facebook.
The fee for the fair went up but just a bit, said fire department President Brian Miller. In fact, he said, the fire officials dickered with the vendor superintendent, Chris Nehrig, and usually got a discount on the fee charged per square foot for the chicken tent’s massive site.
But the cost of chicken goes up.
As does the cost of the tent, which the fire department doesn’t own and hauls out for every barbecue.
“The rent is $1,600 to $1,700 for the week. Plus the cost for us to rent the lot puts us over $3,000,” Miller said. “And that’s not even us buying the chicken yet, buying the soda.
“We don’t start making money until Wednesday or Thursday after we pay our own costs. So it’s a bunch of variables.”
Manpower may be tops. It doesn’t come with numbers.
It’s things like Al Pluchinsky, the assist fire chief who wired the electric at the tent every year. He passed away.
“Our generation of firemen is getting older. We don’t have too many young firemen in Brush Valley anymore,” Miller said. “Losing Al was a big loss for us.
“We’re not getting new members.”
Well, maybe a few. In his five years as president, Miller said, three young guys have joined. One stayed.
“We do get outside help from people that live in Brush Valley but they’re getting up in age too.”
On the county fair side of the ledger, veteran board member Ed Nehrig confirmed some prices of doing business with the fair have gone up, but he didn’t mention specific numbers.
“Anyone in business knows costs are rising,” he said. “That’s an everyday happening no matter what business you’re in.”
Fairgoers, it was announced on the fair’s website, will pay an upcharge for rides at the carnival this year: Five dollars on top of the regular gate admission to get onto the fair grounds.
The midway, provided by an outside company, before this year was part of the one-price-for-all admission. Ed Nehrig said the carnival company, C&L Shows, wanted to be allowed to set its own price when its contract came up for renewal this year.
“But the eight dollars still gets you all the shows and attractions in front of the grandstand,” Ed Nehrig said.
He said he hadn’t been in contact with the Brush Valley fire company to know why they parted company, but he had heard the talk that had circulated in the community.
“I just know what you heard on social media. Now I’m not on that, and my opinion is not very high,” he said.
Once clarified, the fair and the fire department sounded a lot alike.
“The fair is no different because we deal with the volunteers to put on an event like this,” Nehrig said. “We’re struggling to keep volunteers.”
With what people they have, Miller said, Brush Valley fire department officials figured they could hold more frequent but smaller scale barbecues over the course of the year to make the money they need to keep up training and operations.
According to Facebook, they’ll start with Brush Valley Day on Aug. 3.
“During the year we do some chicken sales on Sundays and since we’re not going to the fair, we may do more chicken sales,” Miller said. “People love the chicken.”
A rooster crowed often in the background while Miller spoke by phone this morning with the Gazette.
No, not one of those chickens.
“It made us sad to decide not to go to the county fair, but we know it was the correct decision,” Miller said.
“Brush Valley chicken has been a mainstay at the fair for a lot of years. I hope people realize that there are more things that contributed to this than the fair board.
“It’s not the fair’s fault.”