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October 19, 2017

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About Firematic Drill Team Racing

These racing events carry on a tradition as old as firefighting itself. As long as there are fires, and firefighters, the pride and comraderie that make up both life on the job as a firefighter and the spirit of friendly competition will be around always.

Introduction

Ever since the beginning, when ladders, hoses - and even buckets - were invented as a way to extinguish fires, there was always a spirit of competition among firefighters as to who could be the first "team" to extinguish the fire. Out of this spirit of competition grew a unique form of racing team, which although can be found in a few different areas across the United States, has its roots with and is most widely practiced in the Long Island section of New York State. What began long ago as simple, unsophisticated footraces have evolved into season-long competitions between numerous rival racing teams, with several different classes of competition, and with officiating and equipment that are state-of-the art. It has reached the point that some of today's fire departments will have budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep a team competitive, and will include not only two fully-equipped racing trucks, but also flatbed haulers, spare motors, tires, and everything else that one might expect to see at a professional auto race.

"Old-Fashioned" Vs. "Motorized" Drill Teams

There are two different categories of Drill-Team racing: "Old-Fashioned" racing teams, wherein all of the competitors race on foot, and any hoses or ladders that are used are carried on a small hand-pulled two-wheeled cart, and "Motorized" racing teams, which use two different classes of "truck" to race with: the Class-B racer, which is typically a heavily-modified older-model pickup truck retro-fitted with a pump, and the Class-C racer, which really bears no resemblence to anything except a modified dragster. (So what's a "Class-A"? Your typical firehouse pumper, such as an E-One or Sutphen or Pierce!) Both the Class-B and Class-C racers have a "pickup"-type bed in the back on which to store folded-up lengths of special lightweight "racing hose", a custom-made rack upon which special racing ladders can be rested for certain events. There are also usually flat "back-steps" on the rear of each rig for racers to stand on, as well as D-ring type handles attached to the rear of the racers so that the riders can hold on as they race down the track. Both classes will have hopped-up racing engines, as well as racing slicks for tires, especially in the Class-C racer division.

Typical Class-B Racer
B Racer B Racer
C Racer C Racer
Typical Class-C Racer

About the Tracks

The tracks used at Drill Team events are usually built and maintained by individual fire departments, but are designed to strict specifications that are dictated by an overseeing officiating body, which guarantees that there will be exact consistencies from track to track. As a racing "season" (usually from spring through late fall) begins, a schedule will be made up wherein various different fire departments will host the races that will make up that season, usually one each weekend.

A typical track is roughly 1/4-mile long. At one end is a staging area, where each of the teams will stage until it is their turn to run the event. As one progresses down the track, there are different starting lines marked out at different distances necessitated by each different event. At a specific distance down the track, on the right-hand side, is a hydrant that during events which require water is maintained at a very specific hydrant pressure, which is usually accomplished by using either a pumphouse or Class-A pumper assigned to that task. At the far end of the track is an arch, usually constructed of wood, that is used for the ladder and bucket-brigade events, and which is also constructed and maintained to very specific standards.

Track Official
A typical racetrack Race officials inspect a hydrant

About The Racing Events

The idea here is to beat the clock, not only to beat your team's best time in a particular event, but to have the fastest time of all the teams in that event. If you're really hot, you'll even break a state record for that event, in which case you would hear over the P.A. system, "General Judges!!" which is a call for all the officials at the track to convene to compare their times on their individual stopwatches to the Official Time kept by the timekeeper, which these days is accomplished using state-of-the-art electronic infrared beams and timing systems. Points are allotted for each event for First-Place, Second-Place, etc. so that the team having the most points at the end of the day is declared the Winner of that day's event. At the end of the season, there are Regional and State Finals, which teams covet winning, or at least placing high among the ranks.

Hose Competitions

The hose competitions are broken down into Old-Fashioned and Motorized groups. In the Old-Fashioned competitions, contestants will either run down the track carrying lengths of hose, or pull lengths of hose down the track on a small two-wheeled cart. At the hydrant end, one competitor has the job of attaching the hose to the hydrant, then waiting to open the hydrant at exactly the right time, timing it so that as the last competitor, who is at the nozzle-end of the hose, reaches the point where the hose is fully-extended down the track, the water is just coming to the nozzle tip, at which point the nozzleman aims the water at a flip-up target positioned at the end of the track. As the target gets triggered, the electronic timer stops the clock. The object is to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible - which isn't as easy as it sounds!

The Motorized version of these events are very similar, except that the racing trucks start from a starting line at the head of the track, loaded with all the racing team members. After racing down the track a specific distance, the truck either stops at the hydrant (for Class-B racers) to hook up and pump from the hydrant, as other team members run down the track with the nozzle, or (in the case of Class-C racers) stops (in theory - in practice it's only a momentary "slow-down"!) to let off team members to hook up one end of the hose to the hydrant, then races as fast as possible down the track, laying hose as it goes, unti it reaches a point where it has to stop again to let off the nozzlemen who continue to hook up the nozzle, then wait for water so that they can hit the target, etc...

It's a dangerous game, as the Class-C racers will often reach speeds of 70 MPH before they reach the hydrant. Many contestants can, and often do, get hurt during the competitions.

Olf Fashion Hose Motorized Hose
An Old-Fashioned Hose Event A Motorized Hose Event

Ladder Competitions

The ladder competitions are again broken down into Old-Fashioned and Motorized categories, with the Old-Fashioned teams using the same hose cart to carry a special racing ladder down the length of the track. In these events, the idea is race down the track, and upon reaching a specific point at the end of the track near the wooden arch, pull the ladder off of the cart (or racing truck) so that the ladder foots in such a way that as the ladder is raised - using the momentum of the moving cart or truck - it places the tip at the top of the arch at with the ladder at a certain angle to the arch, and with the tip within a specified area at the top. At this point, as racing team members foot the ladder, one or more team members climb as quickly as possible to the top of the ladder in order to grasp the top rung, at which point the clock is stopped.

There are strict regulations regarding this event. Should the ladder be footed too close or too far from the arch, or if the tip is not in the correct (safety) area at the top of the arch, the team is disqualified for that particular event. This is due to the inherent dangers in raising a ladder at speed (which you can see by reviewing the photos on the Racing Photos page!).

Old Fashion Ladder Motorized Ladder
An Old-Fashioned
Ladder Event
A Motorized
Ladder Event

Bucket Brigade Competitions

The last event of the day is always the Bucket Brigade, which is good, because by that point everyone is usually tired, hot and sweaty from the previous events! Each team member is issued a canvas "bucket", and after running a specified distance down the track, one by one they dip their buckets into a trough filled with water. The first three or four team members will climb a stationary ladder that has been affixed to the arch, and take positions on the ladder as one by one the other team members hand buckets of water up to them, up and up until the top-most member dumps that bucket of water into a 55-gallon drum that is stationed atop the arch. He then tosses that bucket onto the ground and grabs the next one, empties it, and so forth until the drum is filled up, at which point the clock is stopped.

This event, although a serious part of the competition and worth points, is not always taken seriously by all the teams, and is sometimes used as just an excuse to get wet and have fun!

Bucket Bucket
Getting wet at the Bucket Brigade!

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