Edgartown Volunteer Firefighters Take the Blue Ribbon in Muster

By JACOB KRAMER

Fireman's muster? Gusto a must! Never lackluster. No bluster. New trucks - no dust or rust! Judging just. Inspires trust. For guts: Hot dogs with mustard!

The all-Island volunteer fireman's muster on Sunday morning was a rousing success, with teams from five of the six island towns competing in three firefighting events in Waban Park in Oak Bluffs. The competitors marked the beginning of the event with a parade around the town, sounding off the muster with a cacophonous blend of fire engines, ambulances and ladder trucks which sounded like ten thousand electronic geese chased by howling robot children. The loudest of all was the Rescue One truck from Oak Bluffs. Perhaps some thought the town was ablaze. Others were pleased. "An invigorating spectacle!" said Aaron Schwartz of Danbury, Vt.

After the parade, the trucks reassembled and team members prepared for their events. Mixed with the diesel fumes and sweat was a strangely delicate scent; the whole place took on the whiff of a nursery. The place smelled of talc. Tactical talc. To speed the midnight alarm event, which simulates dressing for a late night call, the firefighters liberally doused their gear with the white powder, which makes the fireproof bunker pants slip on more smoothly. The mood was lively and fraternal: "We're out here to have fun and show people what we can do," said John Tierney, captain of the Tisbury team.

Spectators were a bit more fierce. "I hope that Edgartown is gonna' annihilate everybody," said Hudson Bausman, age 11. Mr. Bausman's neighbor's father is on the Edgartown team, so his allegiance is understandable.

In addition to physical competition, the muster was an opportunity for the various departments to show off their new equipment. John Cotterill showed off West Tisbury's new brush truck number 732, which sits about six feet off the ground and has a huge inverted snowplow for charging through the woods and over small trees in order to better fight forest fires. The Island is currently on high fire alert due to the early summer draught, so this piece of equipment may come in handy soon enough. Incidentally, toward the end of a recent muster, an alarm came in for a fire at the state forest, and all the competitors scrambled to battle the blaze.

Though number 732 is an impressive rig, Oak Bluff's new ladder truck stole the show, sparkling fire-engine red in the solstitial sun. With a rescue height of 105 feet, the machine is well equipped to reach houses that are set back from the road. Ladder 551 took a year to build, and serves as a much-needed replacement for its eponymous 49-year-old forebear. Capt. Buddy De Bettencourt, the leader of the engine for 35 years, offered this reporter and his brother the opportunity to ride the rescue basket sky-high. The German-built arm craned us over the crowd, offering the perfect vantage from which to observe the national anthem and opening of the muster.

The day's games were dedicated to the memory of the nine South Carolina firefighters who died in the line of duty when the roof of a store collapsed on them. The June 18 disaster has been described as the worst for emergency rescue workers since Sept. 11, 2001, and is a reminder of just how regularly firemen and women risk their lives to save others. After this sobering moment, the mood shifted as the deejay put on Let's Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas. The announcer called out, "What do we want? Water! Water! Water! - Water! Water! Water!" Finally the event began.

West Tisbury was the first to do the midnight alarm event, in which the team members had to hastily don their uniforms, charge through a door onto the field, correctly connect hoses and knock three soccer balls off their stands using the water pressure from the hose.

Across the events, penalties were assessed for improper dressing, failing to bleed the one and three quarter-inch hose line before entering the doorway, and lack of appropriate teamwork among other things.

The best teams seemed to follow that old Delta Force motto, "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast." The Chilmark team had trouble mastering the hydrant's flow in the rescue event, which was won by Edgartown in 55.5 seconds. "The team that usually wins is the team that doesn't get any penalties," said Mr. Tierney, who himself received a three-second demerit for having his hat on backwards.

The precision of the competitors inspired cogent comment from one of the smaller spectators. "It is interesting to see how the firefighters can do different kinds of work with and help people with their skills," said Emma Roush, age 8, of Boston.

Most difficult of the three events was the one that has little to do with actual firefighting. In the bucket brigade, teams sat in a line and poured buckets of water backwards over their heads into the next bucket, trying to fill a trash barrel as fast as possible. Fires are no longer fought this way on the Vineyard, and the event took its toll on the unpracticed teams. "The bucket brigade is harder physically, it's slower and more strenuous than the other events." Said Morgan Hauck, a member of the Chilmark team competing in her first Muster. "It's all rhythm," said another of her teammates. The West Tisbury team completed the event twice, earning a do-over because the water pressure was too weak the first time around.

The results?

Midnight alarm: West Tisbury, first; Chilmark, second; Edgartown, third.

Fire rescue: Edgartown, first; Oak Bluffs, second; West Tisbury, third.

Bucket Brigade: Edgartown, first; Tisbury, second; West Tisbury, third.

Overall total scores: Edgartown, first; Chilmark, second; West Tisbury, third.

"We busted our butts and won," said Asa Vought of the Edgartown department. "Thanks to everyone for coming out."

The firefighters weren't the only winners. Sam Brooks and Nicole Wilson sold refreshing lemonade for 25 cents to raise money to build handicapped accessible housing for severely injured troops from the Iraq war. The girls collected over $75 in donations to their charity.