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Volunteer fire department drill tourneys

Brentwood firefighter Dan O'Neil of the

Brentwood firefighter Dan O'Neil of the "Tigers" aims the nozzel to hit the target at the Selden Invitational Drill hosted by the Selden Fire Department at Ridge. (June 23, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

A motor revs loudly as a pickup truck comes flying down the track at 70 miles an hour -- four firemen are hanging off the back.

When the driver slams on the brakes, they leap off, carrying a ladder -- two men anchor it to the ground, one holds it steady against an arched tower some 20 feet in the air while the fourth scrambles to the top as fast as he can.

"5.25 seconds!" the announcer calls. The crowd bursts into applause.

This is a scene that's been occurring on summer weekends for nearly 100 years at local volunteer fire department drill tournaments. The activities mimic moves firefighters make rushing to a working fire -- mounting and climbing ladders, hooking up hoses. While no actual fire is used in the drills, the goal is to finish the drill as fast and accurately as possible.

 

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

Community members come to the tournaments to witness the thrill of each event and cheer on their local team.

"I saw videos on YouTube, and it looked interesting, so I came down to watch," says Samantha Greene, 19, of Mastic Beach at a recent tournament in Ridge.

Tom Albin, 75, of Eastport, is a tournament regular who can be found in the stands marking up his scorecard. "I like the motor pump contest because there's a lot of action in it," says Albin, who says he was "the hydrant man" for his hometown fire drill team 57 years ago.

There's even a comedic element for the crowd to enjoy as the firemen often get drenched during the bucket brigade finale, which involves racing to fill a 45-gallon drum by passing buckets of water up a ladder.

"I like seeing them all get wet," said Reggie Elton, 12, of West Sayville, giggling.

 

KEEPING SHARP, STAYING SAFE

Organizers say the drills sharpen the firefighters' rescuing skills for a true emergency and teach the team how to work together. "If you have a bad fire, you want firefighters with speed and agility," says Kevin Connell, 58, president of the North Lindenhurst Fire Department. "You get to learn those skills on the drill team."

Some drills appear to be quite dangerous, but according Connell, the participants are well trained. Helmets are required and many firemen wear pads on their knees, elbows and chest. "The best way to keep people safe is to make sure they know what they are doing and can handle whatever is going to happen," he says. "These guys are well rehearsed. It's second nature to them."

 

DRILL STARS

One of the top local drill teams is the West Sayville Flying Dutchmen, which currently holds 11 state championship titles. The team ringer is speedster Michael Marra, 39, who has been racing for 22 years.

"I used to watch my dad as a kid, and I just fell in love with it," Marra says. "I'd spend summers climbing the ladder and hanging around the team." Marra's father, Robert, 71, used to be West Sayville's driver, and now he helps coach the team.

"Michael takes it very seriously and practices even in the off-season," he says, proudly. "He's a far superior athlete than I ever was."

 

UPCOMING TOURNAMENTS

See nysdrillteams.com

TOMORROW

NASSAU COUNTY MOTORIZED DRILL

8 a.m., Tully Park in New Hyde Park, with parade at 6 p.m. in Port Washington

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 12)

 

SUFFOLK COUNTY DRILL

9 a.m. Firemen's Park, Ridge (rain date: 11 a.m. Sunday), parade at 6 p.m. in Selden

ADMISSION $7 ($4 ages 10 and younger)