By STEVEN NALLEY
The firefighters of Oktibbeha County’s seven volunteer fire departments have a score to settle with each other.
In August 2010, Sturgis hosted the county’s first annual firefighters’ games. Greg Wall, Sturgis Volunteer Fire Chief, said the event was a success except for the stormy weather, which ultimately forced the firefighters to return to their stations in anticipation of weather-related emergencies, cutting the games short.
“We called it a draw, so the pressure has built a little bit this year,” Wall said. “Everyone wants to win. There’s a lot of departmental pride.”
However, this year’s games are about more than pride.
The second annual Oktibbeha County firefighters’ games will be held at Jackson Park in Sturgis on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The event will begin at 2 p.m. with a devotional in memory of the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, led by Maben Fire Station Manager Joel Walls. After that, the games will begin, Wall said, but the commemoration will not end.
“This is a memorial,” Walls said. “We’re doing everything in memory of the 9/11 attacks.”
Kirk Rosenhan, Oktibbeha County Fire Services coordinator, said while the games are fun, they also function as training. Most of the games revolve around aiming high-pressure water hoses at specific targets, he said, building a skill firefighters need in the most dire emergencies.
“This way, with a moving target and people yelling at us and two or three guys on the hose, we generate some teamwork, and it’s good training,” Rosenhan said. “This year, we’re adding a memorial service to commemorate, certainly not celebrate, but commemorate 9/11. Other than that, it’ll be the same as we’ve done before. In general, we just have a good time. It’s a little fellowship, a little rivalry between some of the departments and some training.”
Wall said not all seven volunteer fire departments had teams in last year’s games, but they are all invited, and he hopes all seven will come this year. The games will use teams of four, he said, but some departments may send more than four people and form more than one team, so he does not know how many teams audiences can expect.
For one of the games, firemen’s soccer, teams use high-pressure spray to push a 5-foot-tall soccer ball to their opponent’s side of the field to score, Wall said. Another game, called the “barrel push,” has a barrel suspended on a cable between two telephone poles. The goal, he said, is to use water to push the barrel to the opponent’s side of the cable.
Not all the games involve high-pressure water, Wall said. One game is a speed drill to see which firefighters are quickest and most accurate when donning turnout gear, the protective outfits firemen wear.
Finally, Wall said he hopes to have go-kart racing, where karts are propelled not by engines, but by high-pressure water aimed at plywood boards on the karts’ backs. Rosenhan said while the races happen on a straightaway, the karts do need steering, a job usually given to firefighters’ wives to keep the karts light.
“We put one of the wives in on the starting line and one of the guys run up with fire hoses and squirt them on (the plywood target,)” Rosenhan said. “They’re not allowed to touch the go-kart. They’ve just got to squirt water on it to propel it, and the girls hopefully can steer it correctly.”
When Rosenhan moved to the Oktibbeha area in 1974, he said he helped start some firefighters’ games in Mathiston and Ackerman. He said such games are also very common in the North, complete with full-on fire truck races.
“They start from a standing start, run up, stop, jump off and see how fast you can get water,” Rosenhan said. “Another thing we’re going to do is a practice hose layout, where we have a water supply, several links of hose and a nozzle, and we’ve got two buckets further down. The idea is the guys run up, uncurl the hose, hook it up, turn the water on and fill the bucket up. The first guys to fill the bucket up win. We’re not promoting doing something really fast and stupid and unsafe at a fire, but we are practicing to see what could happen, because the guys get the wrong end of the hose, and they turn the water on before it’s hooked up. We have a lot of fun with that one.”
Rosenhan said the competitive spirit has been building, but the firefighters know how to keep it under control.
“We have exchanged a number of emails about Sturgis being a bunch of lily-livered contestants,” Rosenhan said. “We’ll see how good they are this year. We’re careful, because if the guys take the water off the target and shoot at each other, we shut it off real quick. In the heat of passion, it happens.”