There were plenty of firefighters, but the only thing burning on Wednesday night was the grill, as the volunteers of the Chilmark Fire Department got together to throw a Backyard Bash at the Chilmark Community Center.
It was a family affair. Kids ran around while their parents and grandparents devoured burgers and hot dogs, caught up with neighbors and old friends, and listened to The New Strangers bust out some tunes.
The Backyard Bash isn’t just a party, it’s also a fundraiser for the all-volunteer town fire department. The party used to be an auction held at the Town Hall, but for the past 11 years it’s been a barbecue. Donald Poole, the president of the Chilmark Firemen’s Association, said, “We wanted to change the event to be more of a community sort of picnic, kind of like a town picnic almost, where people could meet the fire department, you know, just see the guys and see what we do.
“As a fundraiser, we found that this is equally effective [as the auction],” he continued.
The firemen sold navy blue CFD T-shirts, raffle tickets for various donated prizes: a $25 gift certificate to Smoke ’n’ Bones, towels, jams, and, of course, dinner.
“When we do the cookout it kind of puts a face on the fire department for the community,” Mr. Poole added in a phone conversation with the Gazette after the event.
“Everybody just gets together at the beginning of August.”
The Backyard Bash isn’t the only way the fire department raises money. The firemen’s association also sends out a fund-raising letter at the end of the year. According to Mr. Poole, the department gets a great response from both events.
Chief David Norton thinks of the bash as a way to keep up community awareness that the fire department needs support.
“If there’s anything they need, we’re here for them,” he said, adding that the station is open on Sundays should anyone want to drop in.
The money raised goes to the fire department and also helps support a scholarship fund as well as a fund for injured firemen and their families, he said.
The firemen also throw Halloween and Christmas parties for the children of Chilmark at the community center.
“We all try to help each other out as much as we can,” said the chief.
The firemen, all dressed in beige T-shirts, did everything from grill burgers to play in the band.
“We all try to do what we can and we all pull together, and some of us can do more than others because of our lifestyle,” Chief Norton said of the firemen, who all have day jobs in addition to fighting fires and coming together to throw the barbecue.
“It’s all part of raising it [money] for ourselves to help in case we are injured; we know that we have something to kick back on us when other avenues run out.”
Even Chief Norton was working; while speaking with the Gazette, he parked cars for barbecue enthusiasts on their way to the community center. One woman pulled up and said that while she couldn’t go to the barbecue, she wanted to donate money. She wrote a check on the spot, gave it to the parking attendant also known as the chief, before pulling out onto the road with a wave
The bash atmosphere is relaxed. It feels, as the firemen intended, more like a town party. Neighbors joined each other at picnic tables while kids climbed on every available surface, including a fire truck parked by the basketball court.
Emily Keating, a Chilmark summer resident, called the Backyard Bash very communal.
“It’s a way to see familiar faces. People don’t call each other here [on the Island],” she said before joining some friends, “They run into each other.”