"Do you know what it is like to get 10 to 15 guys out practicing two nights a week? They have a lot of heart," said Pete Roberts of the Turtles, the racing team for the Louisville Volunteer Fire Department.
That heart was on ample display at the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department's annual Field Day held Saturday at their pavilion and track on Mill Pond Drive. Volunteer fire department teams, their friends, family and supporters had turned out for an exciting day of racing under the blazing sun offset by a pleasant breeze and lots of water being sprayed, thrown and squeegeed around.
While safety is a high concern, the sport of firematics is not to be taken lightly as the participants hurl themselves down the track hanging on what might be called fire dragsters, home made racing platforms and modified trucks that are all about speed where fractions of a second and accuracy counts as it does in coupling together hoses, exploding up ladders and running down a track carrying heavy hoses.
Firematics is also about precision and trust as the person at the hydrant might bang on the water while others are still trying to screw together hoses before the surge hits them. Get it together and records and prizes can be made, miss and its last place and embarrassment in front of ones fanatic fans. Frustration is soon forgotten as the next race is soon up and with it a chance for redemption.
Determined as each team is to win, and I mean as determined as any Olympian with the prospect of getting a gold medal, there is a camaraderie and friendship that is palatable. No sooner than one team is finished and rolling up their hoses they are encouraging their competition to do well. They all want to win, make no mistake about it, but they want to win by skills tested and not default as the skills gained when racing matter when trying to put out a fire, pull people out of a burning house, or handle some other life-threatening emergency.
They also want to beat Lake Placid's Panthers, one of the winningest fire departments
in the state, and to do so on their home track. That kind of a victory is just delicious and be sure the Panthers have no desire to give any team such a pleasure. So while everyone was having fun, the game was equally deadly serious.
"I think we have seven teams here today," said Wayne Hance of Hannawa Falls. "I have been a fireman for 21 years. "Back when I started I just wanted to help people who had a fire, or had an accident. I have met all kinds of people over the years and I have made a lot of friends."
"If you ever need anything, they will help you," said Laurie Hance.
"It is hard recruiting new people. You have too many hours of training for new people to come in. The amount of training is a barrier. They are trying to add premiums like covering college tuition to encourage young people to join," said Wayne.
"I am an honorary volunteer fire chief," said Russ Wood. "I just wear the shirt and cheer the boys on. It's important to support them because most are volunteers and they give a lot of themselves to help others."
"I was a fire chief for two years," said Robert Wilson. "I was in for 25 years. Why? I just wanted to do something for the village. I had been in the service and was working for the Lake Placid News as a printer and Bernie Fell, who was the fire chief at the time, came down and talked me into it. I stayed because I just enjoyed it. These races are important because they teach the skills needed to be a fireman. I liked the speed hose the best. I was on the bottom of the ladder. I enjoyed it when we finished it, no one got hurt, and we had a good time."
"I was a fireman in Windmill for many years," said Gary Lamica. "I enjoyed helping local people. Some of the things that you get from helping people is really amazing. If we didn't have volunteers our country would be really screwed. Volunteers are the backbone of this country."
"It takes a lot of team work," said Tracy Lahart. "If one person is off then the whole team is off. We practice two nights a week. I have been in the fire department for ten years; my bother's a member as well. Our father used to do it. He was a hydrant man and a past fire chief."
"It's a good thing I don't get paid for this, because if I was paid I probably wouldn't do it," said Joe Smith.
"You Turtles are anything but slow," said to Pete Roberts after they won the C Hose competition.
"Hah, some days, but not always" he said. "My dad, who drives our truck, has 50 years in the department. I have 30 years in. I grew up sleeping in the department. We enjoy coming up here to Lake Placid, the people are very good to us. What makes a good team is a lot of hard work, a lot of good guys, a lot of practice, I means LOTS of practice, and good team work. It has to click. Some days like this it all comes together, some days it doesn't."
"I am not the first woman in our fire department, just the longest lasting one," said Karen Fountain. "I am the secretary-treasurer now. We are not doing too bad for volunteers. We have gotten in a couple new members. We don't go out an recruit them, we look for people who just come to us. They really need to love volunteering because this is a lot of work. It is a lot of fun too. It's the grass roots of Lake Placid."
"Why do I help?" said Lake Placid's current fire chief Liane Colby, "to help serve the community."