Across the US, volunteer fire departments play a pivotal role in rural communities. Volunteer firefighters put out fires, conduct search and rescue, respond to any kind of emergency, and serve as a resource for the people around them. Municipal funding covers some of the expenses of volunteer fire departments, but not all of them…so they fundraise! So, in addition to being trained, fire-fighting, first-responding, and community-support machines, volunteer firefighters are also community fundraising pros.
Case in point: the Marshall, Wisconsin Volunteer Fire Department. They put on several fundraisers a year, one of which is their annual Fireman’s Festival.
We chatted with the Secretary of the Marshall Fire Department, Chris Meinholz, to find out more about their festival. His answers offer tips for other community fundraisers supporting their towns and counties through their work.
The Mashall Fire Department’s Fireman’s Festival
Held at the Marshall Fireman’s Park, the Fireman’s Festival is an annual two-day event. In addition to requiring no small amount of planning, the event also has to be exciting to bring in a crowd, so Chris and his fellow firefighters try to keep things interesting.
Since the goal is to fundraise, the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department connects with local businesses to secure sponsorships and support.
The Plan for the 2022 Fireman’s Festival
A fish fry sponsored by local bar The Barrel Inn kicked things off on Friday night. Shares Chris, “They have a very good fish fry and the owner was very generous by donating the fish and helping us cook it.” The fire department also hired the band Stetsin & Lace to play, and the Marshall Home Talent Baseball team played a game.
Saturday’s lineup included a truck and tractor pull, bags tournament, free kids activities, and the new addition of a Latin Family Day with food trucks and music. See the cool tractor pull at the 2022 Marshall Fireman’s Festival below:
Keeping the Community Interested in an Annual Event
As veteran fundraisers, Chris and his fellow planners know that keeping things fresh is essential to keeping people returning year after year!
For thier 2022 event, the firefighters knew they wanted to do something for the local Hispanic community, so they added a Latin Family Day. Says Chris, “Several local Hispanic bands and a DJ played music (mostly donated by La Movida Radio), and Maria’s Mexican Restaurant brought food trucks. They set one up near the Latin Family Day events and the other near the truck pull. We found that the food trucks were a huge hit with the crowd in attendance. I personally took a break from working behind the bar and waited in line for over a half hour to get food because they were so busy. It was definitely well worth the wait though, because the food was delicious.”
How the Funds Raised Help
In short, the money raised helps a lot. Successful fundraising makes everything—from equipment and extra training not covered by municipal budgets to rewarding volunteer firefighters (who are actual volunteers! They are unpaid!) for their work—a possibility.
Chris explains what the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department does with the money raised by the festival, their raffles, and other fundraisers specifically:
“Funds raised by our event may be used in several different ways. One of which is to purchase new equipment not covered by our municipal budget. This equipment helps us better serve our district by allowing us to work more efficiently and more safely. An example of equipment purchased in the past by funds raised by our events is our ATV. Using it, we can respond to brush fires and EMS incidents that are a significant distance off the roadway. It is equipped with tracks and can get to places our brush truck and ambulances cannot go.
Another way that funds are used is to provide special training for our members. The municipal budget covers typical firefighter certification classes, but the occasional special trainings may not be. Often live burns and hands-on training come from donated structures or vehicles. We may also use funds to purchase fire prevention supplies, such as plastic helmets and pencils for kids, or refrigerator magnets and smoke alarms.
We are a volunteer department and our members put in many hours training and responding to emergencies without pay. So, funds raised may also go toward rewarding our members. An example of this is that we just had our annual holiday party for our members. It’s a way to thank them for all that they do and to help retain members. Without any volunteers, we wouldn’t be here to respond to emergencies. We also are in the process of getting Class A uniforms for our members so that we look professional at things such as funerals or parades.”
The above are just a few of the things the monies raised help the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department achieve. Ultimately, a fundraising win for the Marshall Fire Department is a win for the communities and people it serves.
Festival Fundraiser Takeaways
- Be creative and mix things up year to year to keep the community interested.
- Be open to one idea leading to another. Says Chris, “The idea for inviting food trucks to sell food at our festival stemmed from the idea to do something for the local Hispanic community. It wasn’t the focus of our festival, but it turned out to be something that people really enjoyed.”
- Reach out to local businesses for sponsorships and support. Chris’ example of the fish fry is a fun one—the fire personnel cooked the fish (with the help of the restaurant). Cooking for the community contributes to building relationships with the individuals served. Guests walk away feeling connected to the Marshall Volunteer Fire Department in a personal way.
- Offer a variety of attractions so that all want to attend. Between the food, entertainment, kids’ activities, and tractor pull, there was something at the Marshall Fireman’s Festival for everyone.
To learn more about the Marshall Fire Department, visit their website and find them on Facebook and Instagram. If you’d like more insights from community fundraisers, check out our report The Outlook for Events & Fundraisers in 2023.