Firemen's Muster set for Sunday in Virginia City

The sound of screeching tires mingled with a cheering crowd as vintage fire engines raced for a predetermined spot on the road. The firehose snakes and rolls on the asphalt as the water pushes its way through, and firemen aim at a cone about 40 feet away.

Engines and muster crews are lined up along D Street, waiting anxiously for their turn to compete with other vintage vehicles during the Comstock Firemen's Muster 2000 in Virginia City Sunday.

For this event, known as motorized hose wagons, a group of six firefighters must bring their truck to a marked point on the road, attach the fire hose, then blast the cone to knock it down. And while the premise for this timed event seems simple, it's a carefully orchestrated, tricky exercise that calls for precision. Many of the engines date back to the early twentieth century, and must be handled accordingly.

Occasionally there were mistakes but this is a small, very forgiving, and appreciative crowd: an easy and amiable mix of vendors, families, kids, and dogs. Tarps over the bleachers flap in the breeze as the chili, nachos, and hot dogs flowed.

'We love it," Fred Sloniker of the Columbia, California Fire Company said, noting Virginia City's Muster is a great excuse to get out of town. He said this is a family event, and as such he feels the musters are important for training the generation that will take his place.

Most of the contestants were from California, but Nevada was represented by companies from Sparks, Reno, the Virginia Highlands, Virginia City, and Carson City.

The event is sanctioned by the California Firemen's Muster Association, an organization founded in1960 by Ron Rice. Chief of the Benicia Fire Department, he retired in 1992 after 50 years of service, and has been announcing these events for 35 years.

"I guess you could call me president emeritus," Rice said, noting musters are an important exercise, with a tradition dating back hundreds of years. The idea for the organization got started when firemen from the Benicia area gathered for picnics. Eventually they started bringing their old fire engines, but this isn't just a meeting of minds, according to Rice.

"These guys are also training for what they would do in a real fire. Getting to the spot and acting out what they would do is very important," he said, noting that most members are either retired or volunteer firemen.

This event is the second of three CFMA events of the season. The third event will be held in Suisun City August 12-13, followed by a state championship muster in Ferndale, California, (near Eureka) September 2-3.


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