The show might not go on

Some bad news has come from the Custer Volunteer Fire Department. The 2024 July 4 fireworks show is at risk of not taking place this year.  
Custer Volunteer Fire Department has put on the July 4 fireworks show for approximately 80 years.  The show has always been funded with donations from community members, businesses and visitors the night of the show.
Over the years costs have significantly increased while donations have declined.  The 2023 show saw the fireworks alone costing approximately $1,000 a minute—$21,000 for approximately a 20-minute show.  But the problem is not just in the cost of the fireworks.  To put on the show, the fire department incurs other expenses as well.  With the hundreds of people who congregate on Pageant Hill comes multiple trash receptacles and port-a-potties. These two items alone cost the fire department $611.39 last year, fire department secretary Selena Spring said.
Spring said in 2021 the fire department was faced with a $4,342.27 loss. In 2022 there was a $4,353.85 loss, and last year that loss was $5954.67. Those numbers have left the fire department asking the question, why does a volunteer organization have to incur such a huge loss for an event that does not benefit them?
“It benefits the community of Custer, the businesses and the locals who get to spend the day and evening celebrating the holiday with their families and friends,” Spring said.
Not included in those costs are the insurance cost along with the volunteer hours the department puts in setting up for and cleaning up after the event. The fire department spends approximately 200 volunteer hours in a three-day span, time away from their personal jobs and their families.  
Spring said the fire department is an expensive business to operate.
“They have critical needs to operate. Fire trucks now cost anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million depending on the truck,” she said. “It costs approximately $6,000 per certified firefighter to provide them with the proper equipment. The fire department’s current priority is a new station due to the fact the current station restricts the equipment they can purchase and does not meet any safety standards.”
The new station’s estimated costs are $8.5 million.  
So why do these numbers matter? Every year the volunteer fire department loses money on events such as the July 4 fireworks celebration, it only sets these critical purchases behind even more, Spring said. The extra money to cover fireworks then must come from their operating account,  money that should be spent on items they need to do their job.
“So, the community must ask themselves would they rather have a fire department focus their funding on important equipment to do the job they are tasked to do, or would they rather spend that money on a community event?” Spring asked. “Custer Volunteer Fire Department asked themselves that question and have decided the money needs to be spent responsibly on more important things to operate as a fire department, not fireworks. Fireworks are nice to have, however, they not a ‘need’ for public safety.”  
Spring said some will ask, “but I already sent the fire department a donation?”
If the fire department receives a donation that is not ear tagged for items like fireworks, the donation goes into the general operating account, Spring said.  If the department receives a donation tagged for fireworks it goes into the fireworks account.
“While the fire department does receive annual money from Custer County, the City of Custer and Custer State Park, these funds do not cover our yearly operating costs and therefore the department must rely on the donations that come in throughout the year,” Spring said. “We are very grateful for those donations. They keep our doors open.”
The Custer Area Chamber of Commerce and local businesses are working on raising funds for the fireworks. To date those fireworks donations are approximately $2,000, far short of the $25,000 needed to continue the show.  
Spring said whether or not there are fireworks this July 4 is now in the hands of the community.
“Only time and money will answer that question. Unfortunately, fireworks must be purchased within the next month and therefore the push for donations is at high speed,” Spring said. “If you would like to see the fireworks show go on, now is the time to get your donations in.”
Spring said the department appreciates everyone who has submitted donations, and especially to the chamber of commerce, who set up the current fireworks campaign in the community.
“We do really appreciate your support,” Spring said.
Several businesses are already taking the initiative to raise money, including the Gold Pan Saloon, where “Firecracker Tuesdays” have already raised $2,000. The event will continue every Tuesday through June, and includes Bingo,  Asian food and drink specials to benefit the fireworks fund. The event is sponsored by the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce.  
For questions, concerns or comments email the Custer Volunteer Fire Department at


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