Cars lose at Chuck Varese Vehicle Extrication Tournament

Members of the West Babylon Fire Department compete
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Members of the West Babylon Fire Department compete against teams from Long Island fire departments in the 7th annual Chuck Varese Vehicle Extrication Tournament at Steers Pit in Northport, on Saturday, May 10, 2014. Each team is judged on how long it takes to complete the extrication, handling of the equipment and the safety procedures followed.(Credit: Heather Walsh)

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Regardless of who wins the annual Chuck Varese Vehicle Extrication Tournament, one thing is guaranteed: Cars lose.

Firefighters in full gear tore through Toyotas, Saturns and Pontiacs like surgeons with oversized instruments Saturday as they faced off in dozens of timed exercises.

Their operating table was a paved lot in Northport, a training ground for the Northport Fire Department, where 21 teams from 11 departments gathered to test their skills.

"It's practice for the real thing," said Mike Silvestri, 24, an East Northport volunteer. "It's really to perfect and increase speed and efficiency."

The tournament, now in its seventh year, is dedicated to Chuck Varese, a 25-year-old Northport firefighter killed in a motorcycle accident in 2008.

"It's like a gift to my son," said Robert "Beefy" Varese, a former Northport fire chief who organizes the tournament. "It keeps his memory alive."

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It's also an opportunity for firefighters to practice lifesaving techniques they use in wrecks.

Teams of five faced off in a bracket-style tournament that lasted five hours as firefighters sliced off doors with giant cutters, crunched dashboards with air-pressurized rams and pulled frames apart with spreaders known as the Jaws of Life.

Speed is important, but so is technique. Judges docked points for "gigs," or safety infractions.

In the end, the Greenlawn Fire Department won the prize -- a metal trophy made from the Jaws of Life -- after slicing four doors and a roof off a car and lifting its dashboard in 9 minutes and 35 seconds.

"Every car is different," said Joseph Salmonese, 24, a Greenlawn volunteer. "Sometimes you get one that's built stronger. Like Volvos, they take a lot of time to cut someone out of."

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Gershow Recycling of Medford donated 30 junkers. "Today is for fun, but without all the training leading up to this, they wouldn't be as quick," said Richard D'Angelo, manager of Gershow's Huntington location.

D'Angelo said he often lets firefighters practice on cars in his yard. "It's not a big deal," he said. "They're going to the shredder anyway."

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