Thanks to donations, Monona fireworks display will be twice as large this year

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

When the Monona Volunteer Fire Department shoots off the city’s fireworks at dusk this Thursday, July 4, expect a show that’s nearly twice as large as last year.

It’s all thanks to an outpouring of support from community members.

“We had really good donations last year,” said volunteer firefighter Andrew Meyer. That’s allowed the department to grow from a $12,000 display to one that’s over $20,000. 

Meyer acknowledged an ultimatum is what spurred the surge in donations.

The Monona Volunteer Fire Department has been putting on the fireworks display for nearly 60 years, according to chief Dave Smith. It was initially funded by a one-time donation from local businesses, then firefighters would solicit donations from the crowd every July 4, using that money to cover the following year’s display. That model worked well for years, Smith said, but, recently, began to dwindle. Faced with insurance costs, price increases and tariffs, the department was forced to dip into other funds, using money raised through a raffle to cover the fireworks shortfall, rather than the equipment purchases for which it was originally intended.

Last year, the fire department warned that, without increased community support, it would no longer be able to provide the same level of fireworks attendees had become accustomed to.

Meyer said people were especially willing to step up once they learned what it takes to put on the fireworks display.

Planning typically begins in January.

“We get together with the salesman and throw ideas back and forth,” Meyer explained, and the salesman puts together a show based on the amount of money the department has available.

But most of the work happens the day of July 4. Firefighters un-box all the shells and sort them according to size. Holes are then dug on the firing grounds and tubes of various sizes are placed and secured in the holes in order to shoot the shells that night.

“Pretty much everyone shows up to help set up,” Meyer said. “You spend at least half the day setting up. This year, [because it’s a larger show], it’s going to take even longer.”

The night of the show is even more tiring and dangerous, as firefighters manually ignite the large amount of fireworks. Each shell is loaded into its correct tube and the fuse is lit by a road flare taped to the end of a stick. Once the shell leaves the tube, the tubes have to be cleaned out, reloaded with another shell and lit again. This process repeats until all the shells are gone.

Luckily, said Meyer, the increase in donations has allowed the fire department to shoot some of the fireworks electronically this year.

“We’ve never done that before,” he remarked, “so we’ll get a few things to go up at the same time, and the colors will work better together.”

“The finale will be twice as big,” he added.

Meyer hopes the community will continue to give when firefighters come around to solicit for donations this Thursday evening. 

They don’t mind doing some extra work to put on a larger display.

“It’s a lot of fun once you start blowing stuff up,” he joked.

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