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Pandemic again halts Deerfield Fireman's Festival

By available accounts, the festival has gone on for at least 120 years, most of that time in the downtown area

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For the second summer, the Deerfield Fireman’s Festival is canceled due to COVID-19.

It is normally held in June in Fireman’s Park in downtown Deerfield and typically draws thousands over three days for truck and tractor pulls, live music, food, a carnival, community worship service, baseball and a beer tent. In recent years, a Tame the Flame walk/run has joined the mix.

Deerfield Fire Department President Dennis Wardell said the 2021 event was called off by a vote of the department members on Thursday April 1. They regathered on Monday, April 5, however, to reconsider, after Dane County on Friday, April 2 issued a new public health order that significantly loosened gathering restrictions, including no longer requiring face masks outdoors.

Wardell said the department has about 30 members. He said they voted, in the end, to stick with the decision to cancel.

Tame the Flame organizer Andy Grosvold said the annual run/walk is also canceled.

Wardell said the county’s new public health order still requires 6 feet of social distancing, and that would have been impossible to police with a large festival crowd and a small number of volunteers. And other rules would have required more work than in a typical year, including having to pre-package food, he said.

The park is owned by the fire department, and it would be putting on the event, making it fully liable in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, he also said.

“It’s not like we don’t want to have the festival,” Wardell said. “The risk is just too big.”

Wardell said the department recognizes the community “is going to be sad,” at the announcement.

By available accounts, the festival has gone on for at least 120 years, most of that time in the downtown area and before that in a meadow west of the village. Originally a July 4 celebration, it eventually moved to June.

“It’s frustrating for us too. But the first thing we preach in fire safety is to protect your community,” Wardell said. “With COVID right now, it’s in the best interest in our opinion not to have it.

Wardell said proceeds from the festival and other fundraisers like an annual holiday pancake breakfast help the department purchase equipment. The department remains all-volunteer, with no full-time staff.

“If we fundraise, people’s taxes don’t go up,” he said.

He said the department hopes to have some sort of fundraiser in the fall but can’t say yet what that might look like.

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