By Traci Chapman
One of Mustang Fire Department’s biggest fundraisers is set to light up city skies in just a few weeks, as firefighters and other volunteers get ready for Freedom Celebration 2017.
“This is one of those things that people in the community love, and we all love do be a part of it every year,” Deputy Chief Roy Widmann said.
Held the last Saturday in June, this year’s 48th anniversary of the event is set for June 24.
MFD’s Freedom Celebration’s scheduling is always a topic of social media commentary in the weeks leading up to the July 4 holiday, because the event is held before Independence Day, or even before the city allows personal firework discharge – from June 27 through July 4.
That is one of the reasons for the late June scheduling, Widmann said. With Mustang being one of the few communities in the area to allow personal fireworks discharge, that means as many as several hundred people from neighboring communities travel to the city to purchase and set off fireworks. That ups the danger of related blazes, theoretically creating the necessity for “all hands on deck,” the deputy chief said.
“The firefighters simply could not host the bean supper for the community and respond to numerous fire calls – most often grass fires – within the city,” Widmann said. “The city supported a change in the date of the celebration, which was historically held on or near July 4, so we could host the event earlier, allowing the public fireworks display and still ensuring firefighters could respond to increased threat because of personal fireworks use.”
The closer it gets to July 4, the more intense fireworks use gets across Mustang, Widmann said. As more and more municipalities outlaw personal use, more and more non-residents travel to Mustang to continue the holiday tradition.
“While it is a great fundraiser for a lot of nonprofit groups and a really entrenched tradition, the growth spurt we’ve seen since the late 1990s has meant it’s just too difficult to try to put on a large-scale event at the same time we’re having to monitor issues and handle calls,” Widmann said.
Known to long-time Mustang residents as the ‘bean supper,” firefighters a few years back changed its name to reflect the event’s evolution – from an outdoor cookout with pork and beans and fireworks to a full-fledged event that includes live music, fire truck rides, vendors and more. Hundreds of people annually attend the event itself, with perhaps thousands more lining Mustang streets to watch the department’s fireworks display.
“The first event was held in 1969, shortly after the department was established – there was a relatively small crowd that would show up to have beans and enjoy the fireworks,” Widmann said. “Today, it’s an entirely different story.”
Freedom Celebration helps fund purchases not covered by the city’s regular budget, Widmann said. In the past, proceeds have been used to buy smaller items like rope, flashlights, helmets and more; last year’s take provided enough money to purchase a four-wheeler used for rough terrains. This year’s profits have not yet been allocated to any particular use, Widmann and Chief Carl Hickman said.
The department also holds a raffle during the event to generate more funds. Local businesses and residents are welcome to donate items for that raffle, as well as cash, Widmann said.
“Cash donations are always welcome – they’ll be used for purchasing larger prizes, such as grills, tools, TVs and the like,” Widmann said.
Any cash donations should be made payable to Mustang Oklahoma Firefighter Association, the deputy chief said.
MFD Freedom Fest begins at 6:30 p.m. June 24 at Wild Horse Park, just west of the city soccer fields. Cost is $5 per person for anyone older than five years old. That charge includes a meal of hot dogs, beans, chips, watermelon, punch and water. There will be area storm spotters and a news helicopter, a few food trucks, vendors, fire truck rides and more. Fireworks begin at dusk.
Individual fireworks may be discharged in Mustang from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. June 27 through July 3 and from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Independence Day. Widmann said residents in Mustang Public School District who live outside the city’s 12-square-miles need to remember personal fireworks are illegal in both Oklahoma City and Yukon.
Freedom celebration tickets can be purchased at the gate or in advance at the fire department. For more information, contact Norma Brown at 376-9365.