Fun for bystanders, the muster is serious business for firefighters
"What do we want, kids?"
"WATER, WATER, WATER!"
So ran the call and answer from the announcer to the energetic spectators at every lull in the action at Sunday's annual Duke's County Firemen's Muster at Dennis Alley Park in Oak Bluffs.
The day started with a parade of fire trucks through the town at 10:30 am, which caught some confused motorists at the ferry terminal off guard; a few cars pulled off of the road to let the cacophony of emergency vehicles pass only to find children in the passenger seats of ladder trucks.
Each Island town participated in the muster to follow; Chilmark and Aquinnah joined forces as one team. Island firefighters were also happy to compete against teams from Carver and Swansea.
This year's three activities were the midnight alarm, the confined space rescue, and the fire truck event. A panel of each town's fire chief or assistant fire chief judged the events. Each event forced firefighters to use real-life techniques and safety procedures.
"Everything you do at a muster is fundamental to being on a fire department," said Simon Bollin, Aquinnah Fire Captain and an organizer of the event. "The musters are just a way to get together and have the towns compete and show each other who was training more and who's doing better."
Photos by Alex Bell
Mr. Bollin added that the tone of the muster has changed somewhat in its fifteen or so years of running. "Now, you have to be particular about penalties and stuff like that," he said. "If you make these mistakes in real life, it's not going to be that you don't win a trophy - it's going to be that someone dies."
When a Swansea firefighter's helmet got stuck on the chickenwire of a tunnel he was crawling through for the confined space rescue, he could have accepted a small time penalty for taking off his helmet and scurrying to hose down the soccer-ball target, but he instead chose to play it safe. The team finished at 83.5 seconds, more than 20 seconds over the winning time.
Announcer Jeff Pratt, a Tisbury ambulance coordinator, called the decision "the best show yet" and emphasized that there is "always time to do things right."
"If something like that happens in real life, the event wouldn't have gone on where the guy went and put out the target," added Capt. Bollin, a firefighter of 12 years. "He would have stopped and helped his friend. There is a real aspect of what we're doing out here."
The events at the muster change from year to year. Last year's bucket brigade event called for firefighters to dump buckets of water over their heads into teammates' buckets behind them. The event was more physically exerting, and participants and spectators were frustrated with how much it changed the outcome of the muster, so it was replaced this year.
The confined space rescue from a few years ago featured a tunnel built from hay bales. Muster organizers thought that metal railings with chicken wire on top would be more fun for this year's competition, allowing spectators to watch the firefighters crawl through the tunnel.
Capt. Bollin revamped the muster's wooden fire truck this year with lights and a siren. When firefighters had to drag teammates in the wagon across the field to fight a fire for the fire truck event, at least they could ride in style (though Oak Bluffs's team was the only team to utilize the new features).
Even though the two off-Island teams, Swansea and Carver, paid for their own ferry tickets to compete on Sunday, Island muster officials happily surprised them upon arrival by giving them the funds to reimburse their travel expenses.
"I went around and collected donations from a bunch of local businesses to make sure that Carver and Swansea didn't have to put up any out-of-pocket expense," said Capt. Bollin. "It's not fair for them to come over to have fun and to have to put up money that they'll have to make back." Eight Island businesses donated about $500, he said. Out of some 47 mainland fire departments invited, Swansea and Carver were the only two that answered the Vineyard's call to hoses.
Three trophies were awarded for each event, plus three overall:
1. Edgartown, 60.5 seconds
2. Oak Bluffs, 66.5 seconds
3. Tisbury and the Aquinnah/Chilmark team tied, 69 seconds
Confined Space Rescue
1. Edgartown and Tisbury tied, 51.5 seconds
2. Carver, 52 seconds
3. Oak Bluffs, 64 seconds
Fire Truck event
1. Oak Bluffs, 30.5
2. Tisbury, 36.5
3. Edgartown, 37.5
1. Edgartown (for the second consecutive year), 149.5 total seconds
2. Tisbury, 157 total seconds
3. Oak Bluffs, 161 total seconds
The John R. Christopher Sportsmanship Award, named after a former Oak Bluffs firefighter, went to Carver this year.
"That's a coveted trophy," said Mr. Bollin. "Most towns just try to get that trophy. It's the most important one."
A women's competition followed the muster:
1. West Tisbury, 55 seconds
2. Tisbury, 69 seconds
3. Carver, 73 seconds