Gothenburg is fortunate. While many rural communities struggle to maintain enough manpower to field a fire department and rescue squad, our community continues to excel in both areas. With 44 firefighters on the roster and an average response time of 2.3 minutes, we have reason to be proud of our Gothenburg Volunteer Fire Department.

Each year the department hosts a big blowout in front of the fire hall, complete with live music and great food. The annual Fireman’s Ball is a way for members of the department to show their appreciation to the community, as well as an opportunity for area residents to show their support for the department.

The Fireman’s Ball is typically the biggest fundraiser of the year for the GVFD. The money raised at the event is used to purchase life-saving equipment for the department. A jaws-of-life and heart monitor are two of the most recent items purchased using those funds.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Fireman’s Ball had to be canceled. But that did not stop the community from continuing to give. According to Craig Franzen, fundraising chair for GVFD, several corporate sponsors stepped up once again. And their donations, combined with grants from the city and rural boards, have allowed the department to continue operations without a hitch.

Those corporate sponsors are: Monsanto/Bayer, Flatwater Bank, Country Partners, First State Bank, FyrTek, Pony Express Chevrolet, Jenssen Enterprises, Gothenburg Health, Landmark Implement, Nebraska Salt & Grain, Brandon Carter/Randy Isaackson Ag, and Dawson Tire & Wheel. Franzen said the department is very grateful to these sponsors for their continued support.

Firefighter training

One way the fire department shows their appreciation to the community is by conducting an annual fireworks display each 4th of July. While this year was a little questionable for a while because of the pandemic situation, it is going to happen. Fireworks have been purchased and the volunteers are getting ready.

Troy Franzen and Lane VanNatta are the two members of the department who are licensed by the State Fire Marshal’s Office to oversee lighting the fireworks. The two must take a test every three years to maintain that license. Troy said the Gothenburg Rotary club handles all fundraising and donation efforts. Those donations are funneled through the City who then disperses it to the fire department for the purchase of the fireworks.

“The amount of fireworks that can be shot each year is completely dependent upon donations,” said Troy. “Donations are the only reason we are able to have a public display. It’s something we all cherish.”

He explained that the Rotary tries to collect enough funds to always stay a year ahead. “It takes a lot of planning,” he said.

Troy’s main focus is determining sizes and numbers of fireworks to be purchased. “For example, even though everyone wants to see the big six-inch shells we can buy a whole lot more three-inch than six-inch. And the six-inch shells are very difficult to light.”

The safety of the volunteer firefighters lighting the shells is top priority for Troy and VanNatta. “I haven’t seen a fireworks show in 15 years, but my focus is on the guys,” said Troy.

He said with not having the rodeo running in conjunction with the fireworks display this year it will help alleviate some of the manpower issues the department has faced in the past. The rodeo has been rescheduled for Sept. 18-19 to run concurrent with the Harvest Festival.

The fire department plans to cordon off the same area at Lake Helen around the memorial for lighting the fireworks as they have in the past. Troy said that while he doesn’t feel they will have the resources to police the crowd as far as social distancing rules, it shouldn’t be a problem. “The area we shoot in is so large there is no reason people shouldn’t be able to spread out and be comfortable, and still see everything,” he said.

The department begins making preparations for lighting the fireworks, as well as inspecting every mortar, a few weeks before the event. Troy said the goal each year is to put on about a 30-40 minute show, and this year will be no exception.

“We really enjoy doing it. It’s for the community, by the community,” said Troy. “Gothenburg has given the fire department so much and this is a good way to give back.”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498