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FVFD ready for big barbecue fundraiser 

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Sixth annual Firehouse Rib Cook-Off returning Aug. 10

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Earlier this summer, Chad Soulek and other members of the Freeman Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) participated in two rib cook-offs — one by Armour Volunteer Fire Department to help raise funds for a new grass rig and the other by Lesterville Volunteer Fire Department to help raise funds for an addition to its fire hall.

“It was great to be able to go over there and help those guys out,” Soulek said.

This coming Saturday, Aug. 10, nearly two dozen departments from across the region will return the favor and come to Freeman in support of the sixth annual Firehouse Rib Cook-Off — a major fundraising effort by the local department. Activities will get underway at noon at the Swimming Pool Park, with the barbecue beginning at 5 p.m. and going well into the evening.

Proceeds this year are being earmarked to help fund a new city truck to replace the current, 1984 model, as well as 10 new suits that cost more than $11,000 each. 

“The funding isn’t always there, so we help each other out,” Soulek said of the effort firefighters make to participate in each other’s events. “I’ve gotten to know so many people through deals like this; there’s nothing like it. We help them, they help us.”

Soulek says as many as 23 fire departments will take part in this year’s cook-off, which doubles as both an exhibition and a competition. That’s the highest number since the FVFD launched its ribs fundraiser in 2014 and firefighter teams are expected to come from as far as Blunt, which is just northeast of Pierre, Lake Andes and Pipestone, Minn. Yankton alone is bringing three teams.

“I’m as tickled as anybody,” Soulek said of the projected competitors, who in addition to ribs and brisket will each be given a gallon of baked beans to make up however they please; a people’s choice vote will determine a winner.

In addition to the food and drinks, the Firehouse Rib Cook-Off features games and activities for both adults and children; a car show and the bean bag tournament registration starts at noon, sand volleyball registration at 1 p.m., a water fight for kids at 3:30 p.m., and a sweet corn eating competition at 5 p.m. — also for the kids.

All of it will take place under the picturesque canopy of trees at the Swimming Pool Park, giving the event a comfortable and friendly feel that attracts as many as 1,000 guests young and old.

“To go through that amount of food (450 racks of ribs and 30 brisket), it’s got to be,” said Soulek, who notes the picture-perfect environment the park provides is ideal for an event like this. 

“It’s just easy going,” he said. “You walk around with some barbecue and a beer in your hand or relax in a lawn chair and have a little picnic with your friends or your neighbor. It doesn’t get any better.”

The entire operation is organized and powered by members of the FVFD, who use several meetings to plan and prepare for the fundraiser.

“Everybody does a good job — everybody does their part,” said Soulek. “Every one of our guys is out there working. We all get a kick out of it. It’s time consuming, but over the years it’s gotten to be pretty smooth.”

This year, the firefighters will have the help of their wives, who cooked up the idea of forming a women’s auxiliary during the department’s Wife Appreciation Night back in January, after the FVFD was called away to a fire and they were left at the station, waiting for them to return.

“They’re all about helping out at our rib deal,” Soulek said. “They’ll be there to lend a hand.”

From taking money for tickets to serving up beer and other beverages to anything else that needs to be done, Saturday’s event is a team effort that relies on the strong support of the community. Soulek is pleased that the department doesn’t solicit any funding from the business community and can, instead, rely on patronage at events like this.

He also notes that the guests are coming from further away every year.

“The other cool thing is that it’s drawing more and more people from out of town,” Soulek said. “All of that helps us do a better job as firefighters, so we can help better serve our community.”