MASSENA — The custom truck roars down the gravel track at more than 70 miles per hour, with four firefighters clinging tightly to the back. It stops on a dime and the contestants leap off, raising a ladder to the platform more than 19 feet above their heads. One man scampers up the ladder to end the run, and the announcer reads off the time over the loudspeaker. The whole thing takes less than 6.5 seconds.
The firematics races were the main event Saturday at the 116th annual Northern New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association convention in Louisville.
“It’s probably the best part of the convention,” said Harold T. “Hal” James III, a firefighter/EMT with the Potsdam Fire Department.
The convention ran from Thursday to Saturday, and events on the final day were open to the public.
“It gives us a chance to get together with our fellow firefighters,” Mr. James said.
Nine drill teams from volunteer departments across Northern New York competed in the races, which featured a host of different events that challenged drill teams’ skills with ladder, hose and bucket.
Spectators young and old lined the track to cheer on their favorite team. For many, the races were a family affair.
Louisville native Nathan W. Smutz came to cheer on his uncle, who was racing with the Louisville Turtles.
“Everybody gets together as a community,” Mr. Smutz said.
William E. “Sandy” Roberts represented the Turtles as one of two drill team captains. A member of the Louisville Fire Department for 50 years, Mr. Roberts worked to create the custom vehicles he drove in the competition. He and his team members met and practiced in their free time two nights a week.
All participants wear helmets for safety, but it still canbe unnerving to race down the track with an entire team clinging to the back of the truck, Mr. Roberts said.
“It’s kind of a funny feeling, because all the guys back there are your friends. You kind of worry about them,” he said.
Drill teams participate in events all around the area throughout the summer and often are followed by loyal family members and friends.
“I grew up around it,” said Nicole L. Brosemer, Deerfield. Ms. Brosemer’s father raced for years, and her boyfriend is on Deerfield’s current drill team.
Ms. Brosemer is a volunteer firefighter and sometimes participates in the races herself, but on Saturday she decided to watch from the sidelines with her 3-year-old son, Lucas S. Arcuri.
“It’s been a lifestyle for me,” she said. “I come out every summer.”
Spectators could dig in at a chicken barbecue throughout the day. After the races, the band Six Foot Midget was to play a concert before the convention was set to close with fireworks.