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Annual carnival to support Rockbridge County fire department goes on despite pandemic

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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Patricia Conner, a Raphine resident, has been waiting months to get barbecue chicken from the Fairfield Carnival.

“Just to support the community and raise money for the fire department,” she told WFXR News Friday, July 24.

The annual carnival accounts for almost a third of the South River Volunteer Fire Department’s annual budget. Despite the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the games and rides are up and running.

“We’ll probably be back later tonight,” said Fairfield resident Ruben Showalter, who also picked up food late Friday morning.

“It really hasn’t slowed me down much,” Showalter said. “You know, we try to wear the masks when we’re around people. I guess at this point, everybody wear a mask and try to stay safe. You’re got to live your life.”

The 66th annual carnival almost didn’t happen.

“There was some doubt,” said Jarrett Harlow, a firefighter with the South River Volunteer Fire Department. “We kind of bounced around the idea on whether we would have the carnival or not. We initially planned to have it without the rides. The ride company wasn’t going to put the rides on.”

Harlow says the rides get cleaned after each use.

“We kind of said it’s an outdoor event. We can socially distance here and get people apart.”

The department holds fundraisers almost every week, with the carnival being their biggest.

“If it weren’t for us coming out and doing this carnival,” said Harlow, “then it’s sad to say we wouldn’t be able to go out and help the people that we do.”

The carnival — which accounts for 30 percent of the department’s annual budget — opened Thursday, July 23, and runs through Saturday, July 25.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize that, how much we have to do just to keep the lights on and keep fuel in the fire trucks,” Harlow said. “I’d hate to say we’d catch a lot of backlash because of doing this, but this is what it takes for us to operate.”

For hours and a list of performers this weekend, click here.

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