BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Cutchogue Fire Department drill team members Eugen Martin (left) and Matt Rolle hold the ladder while Mike Lessard Jr., Kyle Pumillo and Ken Burns compete in the three-man ladder contest during Saturday’s county drill competition in Riverhead.
Saturday’s downpours didn’t dampen the spirits of members of about 20 Suffolk County fire departments that sent drill teams to Riverhead, where they battled it out in a series of events that pushed their firefighting skills to the limit.
Part of the Suffolk County Drill and Parade Team Captain’s Association annual parade and drill competition, Riverhead hosted the event, which drew hundreds of firefighters, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of its own drill team, the Ironmen.
Following the competition, the county’s annual parade took to Route 58, shutting down that busy road for more than two hours. Though it was delayed for about an hour when the competition ran into overtime, about 50 fire departments turned out for the parade, which was last held in Riverhead about 25 years ago.
Though they had to take a few breaks to wait as the rain passed, drill participants competed in hose, ladder and truck races as well as a bucket brigade on an asphalt track just east of the Riverhead armory on Route 58. The final two events were rescheduled for Sunday morning due to the weather. When the contest concluded, top honors went to the West Sayville department.
Winning the county competition is a big honor for departments, said Riverhead firefighter Bill Sanok. Riverhead drill team members spend about 10 hours a week training for events like Saturday’s, in addition to handling other departmental duties.
“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” said Riverhead firefighter Brian Densieski. “You know, just trying to get the best time you can.”
Mr. Densieski added that Riverhead broke its own record in the motor pump run, which was a boost to the team’s morale. As the host team, Riverhead was disqualified from taking home any trophies because of the home turf advantage.
Cutchogue Fire Department’s drill team captain Bill Burns said that, in addition to fostering camaraderie among volunteers, drill team practices can help members become faster at climbing a ladder or handling a hose. “It’s what we do in any fire,” he said. “We get to hone our skills.”