Firefighters put their skills to the test


One of the largest parades in Nassau County returned to Rockville Centre this weekend for the first time in eight years. Nearly 40 fire departments and more than 50 trucks gathered for the Nassau County Fireman’s Drill and Parade, a 120-year tradition steeped in history, camaraderie and, of course, competition.

The two-day festivities began on Friday night at Firemen’s Field with the annual Old Fashioned Drill tournament — a series of timed races and contests designed to test firefighters’ skills.

Teams demonstrated their strength and agility, and the Rockville Centre Bulldogs, with Reliance Hose Company No. 3, that brought the trophy back to the firehouse.

The next morning, the competitors returned to the track for the motorized drill. The sounds of engines roaring and tires screeching could be heard over the cheers of the crowd. Thirteen teams competed in the fast-paced event, as firefighters leapt from the back of vehicles and trucks in a race against the clock. With the highest possible score, the North Bellmore Rinky Dinks took home the trophy.

Both drills were broken up into three categories of competition — hose, ladder and bucket brigade. The winning teams were determined based on their times.

In the hose competition, teams raced down the track, hooked a hose up to a hydrant and hit a target with water. In the ladder event, competitors raced down the track and raised a ladder to a tower overhead while one member was climbing; the clock stopped when the climber reached the top. In the bucket competition, groups of five passed buckets of water in a race to fill the bucket at the top of a ladder.

After the competition, firefighters from all over prepared for the parade, which featured antique fire engines, marching bands and pipes and drums.

“It was a fantastic night,” Mayor Francis Murray said. “What an undertaking it was by our fully volunteer fire department to man these different events. It really shows the pride of the volunteerism on Long Island.”

Murray also gave special thanks to the village Department of Public Works for placing barriers along the parade route, and the Police Department and Nassau County Auxiliary Police, who helped out.

Grand Marshal Carl Weeks, a 68-year member of Woodland Engine Company No. 4, led the parade down Maple Avenue to the firehouse on North Centre Avenue.

“It was such a fantastic day,” Weeks said. “All the politicians were there, and I got a certificate from Nassau County and one from the Town of Hempstead. I had relatives coming from all over. It’s been quite a weekend.”

Weeks, 88, joined the department when he was 18, and served with Eureka Hook, Ladder and Bucket Company No. 1 for 10 years before transferring to Woodland in the early 1960s.

Ray Maguire, executive director of the Freeport Fire Department, said that the county firefighters parade is a tradition that dates back more than 100 years, to when the Nassau County Fireman’s Association was founded in 1903.

“The fire service is a paramilitary organization,” Maguire explained. “When the firefighters march in the parade, they’re judged on their appearance.”

This year, judges presented the county Fire Parade trophy to the Oceanside Fire Department, which also won first place for Best Appearing Fire Department in its category, and Overall Best Appearing Department. The Freeport F.D. came in a close second.

Maguire said that the departments’ skill and discipline is evident during the tournaments. “It requires a team effort to complete each task,” he said. “Whether it’s connecting hoses together or hitting a target.”

Following the parade, the teams gathered at RVCFD headquarters for a block party featuring a performance by Jimmy Kenny and the Pirate Beach Band, performing hits by Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown.