The Spearfish Volunteer Firefighters Association has eyes for the future—particularly the long-term future, says President Glen Lewis. Originally, a volunteer fire department before the city took over last year, the association now has a different name and a new role.

“Our role changed to a support organization,” Lewis said. “And now we’re looking at how we can fulfill that role in our city and community.”

That conversation led to a partnership with South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF), where the association recently started a scholarship to support students and a fund to bring new programs and support to the community. “The Community Foundation has a long history in South Dakota and we thought of them when we started looking toward our future,” Lewis said. “As an association, we want to give back to the community, and for it to be more than a one-time thing.”

The fire department historically ran an annual fund drive, soliciting donations from the community to raise money for equipment and training, with a portion of that money saved for future needs. That money will now be invested through SDCF and awarded through scholarships and grants for the community.

Some of the money will be used for a scholarship fund for high school students going into public service fields or fire service following graduation. Funds will also be used to provide supplemental training for firefighters and public education in fire prevention and awareness. The association has donated specialized helmet lights to the Spearfish Fire Department, and most recently, five iPads. The tablets are used in fire trucks and include detailed maps and reference guides for personnel to be more efficient when they respond to an emergency.

Curtis McGuigan, treasurer of the association, said the funding will go a long way in providing the department with tools and technology they would not otherwise be able to afford. “We’ll be able to keep the department at the highest end of technology,” he said. “It’s about being able to make the job safe and the community protected.”

Funds will also be directed to victims of emergencies. “We have an auxiliary that works closely with the Red Cross and together they help get people connected to the right places,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to take care of the people who volunteer as well as the community at large.”

In the future, the association would like to invest in a smoke house, which is a great education tool for the community. The house, which is equipped with cameras, can be filled with artificial smoke and used as a training tool for how to best react when a fire alarm goes off. “You can rehearse a fire drill,” Lewis added. “We see that as having a big impact on the community, particularly our youth.”

Spearfish Attorney Eric Nies is working with SDCF to set up the scholarship fund and said the organization was responsible with donations from the community when it was the volunteer fire department. “This is a wonderful deal for the community of Spearfish,” he said. “The fire department has been extremely good about saving money over the years. This will create a yearly stream of income to support the fire department and distribute out to the community—everyone will benefit.”

Nies added that the community is safer and stronger with a capable fire department. 

It takes a special sort of person to be a firefighter. They put their lives on the line every time an alarm goes off. We need to support them any way we can.

— Eric Nies