At Firemen's Muster, Duty Calls for Tisbury


West Tisbury volunteer firemen placed first at the Dukes County Firemen's Muster on Sunday. This was their third consecutive win. More than 200 people gathered at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs to cheer firemen from five Island towns and a visiting team from the town of Carver as they competed for top honors in the annual competition.

It wasn't just an exercise. Included in the event was a call to what was thought at first to be a serious fire at the E&E Deli at Five Corners. At 12:44 p.m., Tisbury firefighters and their fire truck went screaming down Seaview avenue toward the scene in the next town. "It was a copious amount of smoke and no fire," chief John Schilling said afterwards. "They had over-roasted coffee beans."

Tisbury firemen made quick time to get back into the competition.

West Tisbury firemen dominated the competition in two of the three events. The muster winner is always the team with the lowest total of points; they were the fastest, and accumulated the low score of 160 seconds.

The up-Island team came in first in the Midnight Alarm and the Truck Hose Lay.

The Midnight Alarm required firemen in each team to start the contest lying down on cots. A horn was sounded. Firemen rose, donned their firefighting gear and went out a door.

They then set up hose lines and aimed them at two targets.

Oak Bluffs was the first team to start, but the team had to restart when a lack of water pressure caused enormous problems. They couldn't knock down the obstacles with the stream of water from their hoses. The judges decided to correct the water pressure issue and let Oak Bluffs try again.

In a second try, the Oak Bluffs team completed the task in 77 seconds.

West Tisbury completed the Midnight Alarm event in just 63.5 seconds. Second-place Chilmark took 10 seconds longer.

The Biff rescue event required powerful lifting skills. Firemen had to set up their firefighting hoses, shoot a target and carry a 170-pound dummy in a stretcher across a finish line. Tisbury won that muscle-straining competition with a time of 46 seconds. Chilmark came in second with 52 seconds. Oak Bluffs, just one second behind, placed third.

The third event, Truck Hose Lay, put West Tisbury into the top position by a mere half-second, with a time of 42.5 seconds. The event required firemen to pull a small plywood fire truck across the field loaded with hoses.

The overall champion was West Tisbury, having completed all three events in 160 seconds. Chilmark took second with 170 seconds and Oak Bluffs finished third with 177.5 seconds. Edgartown and Carver didn't place.

In the ladies' competition, the team from Carver beat the Vineyard ladies, 43 to 57 seconds.

The firemen's muster dominated the grassy Waban Park. An Edgartown fire truck flew an American flag from its ladder, extended high above the field. Skies overhead were cloudless. Suntan lotion was passed among the participants and the spectators. James Moreis, an Oak Bluffs fireman, and members of his extended family cooked hamburgers on a grill.

Tisbury ambulance coordinator Jeff Pratt, master of ceremonies, provided interludes of contemporary music between the events on a powerful sound system. "I thought the competition went really well," Mr. Pratt said. "They really tried hard. But I'll tell you I'd like to see more people show up," he said.

This is the second year the event has been held in September. In years past, the competition took place in July, and attendance was heavier. But organizers said a summer event is just too much trouble amid all the business of the season. Years ago, Cuttyhunk firemen also attended, making it truly a gathering of the county's firemen.

Oak Bluffs fire Lieut. Mark Alwardt, 42, assisted other fire chiefs with the judging. "I can't tell you how many years I have done this," Mr. Alwardt said. "I went looking in my drawer and found T-shirts from past events. I found T-shirts from 1989, 1994, 1992 and 1999.

"There are a lot of local people here. There are a lot of Islanders," Mr. Alwardt said. Participating fire chiefs, acting as judges, included Dennis Alley from Oak Bluffs, Walter Delaney from Aquinnah, Manny Estrella from West Tisbury and David Norton from Chilmark.

The Tisbury muster squad received the John R. Christopher Sportsmanship Award, for being good team players. Nicky Fullin, one of the organizers of the muster, said the Tisbury firemen were most deserving because they worked so hard to make the muster happen. Plus, he said, they went out to fight a fire, came back and were in the competition. And last but not least, the Tisbury squad also hosted the firefighters' meal at the American Legion Hall later that day.

"The people were fantastic. The fans were super," said Mr. Fullin.