Fired up: Kids vie in Merrimack fire muster

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON Team members from Mastricola Elementary School assisted a fourth-grade student in suiting up for the Midnight Alarm event, a challenge presented during the fire muster in which contestants don bunker pants, a bunker coat and a plastic helmet to run through a series of cones and return to the finish line, the point where the team helps retrieve the gear so the next contender may suit up and make an equally quick run.

A speedy contingent of potential firefighters from Merrimack elementary schools undertook yesterday some rigorous challenges at a Fire Muster hosted by the local firefighters’ union at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School. Kudos ultimately went to the winner: Reeds Ferry Elementary School.

The event, held for at least 15 years, draws together mostly fourth- and fifth-grade students who are gifted with T-shirts in colors representing their schools. Cake, ice cream and beverages are other bennies.

The yellow team was comprised of youngsters from Reeds Ferry Elementary on Lyons Road. The green team boasted students from James Mastricola Upper Elementary School on School Street. Students from Thorntons Ferry Elementary, on Camp Sargent Road, were stylish in royal blue. And Mastricola Elementary School contenders wore fire-engine red shirts that surely will be worn on occasion to their classes at the school, on Baboosic Lake Road. Each shirt bore an event logo.

Merrimack Fire and Rescue’s Brian Borneman, assistant chief of support services, emceed the event and congratulated all involved as having done a great job. He said the event has been a tradition for at least 15 years and draws many mentors from the fire department who help the teams through the series of three lively events. The day is sponsored by the Professional Firefighters of Merrimack IAFF Local 2904.

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON The team from Reeds Ferry Elementary School, champions of the annual fire muster, and their fire department mentor, Josh Couleb, rear, a Merrimack firefighter and emergency medical technician, take a moment for a photo opp with the event’s prize, a handsome trophy made up of a bronze-toned fire bell mounted on shiny, quilted aluminum, ready for display at the school. The team extended congratulations to all their fellow competitors, students from Merrimack elementary schools – James Mastricola Upper Elementary School, Thorntons Ferry School and Mastricola Elementary School.

“This is an event that teaches kids teamwork and positive interaction with the firefighters,” Borneman said. “Many of the firefighters come back, year after year, to be mentors to the teams.”

The kids bubbled with enthusiasm, as did their faculty leaders and the mentors from Merrimack Fire and Rescue who guided each of the teams through the contests, activities requiring skill and lots of energy. Every team member had a chance to participate in the three events, all of which called for speed, teamwork and sky-high school spirit.

Nicholas Franqui, a fifth-grade student at JMUES, was one who in fine style undertook the Midnight Alarm event, one that requires contestants to quickly don a heavy pair of bunker pants and an equally cumbersome fireman’s coat, along with a red plastic helmet, then run down and back through a cone-lined course the length of the gym. Teammates assisted as needed to enable his quick launch toward a series of orange cones and the retrieval of the gear for the next person in line. Nicholas maneuvered through the cones and flew through the course like an eagle. His twin sister and mother were on hand to cheer.

“It was hard getting into the pants but the whole day was awesome” Nicholas said. “Someday, I might like to be a fireman.”

The Hose Lay contest was another of the events that took teamwork and speed. It was an exercise in which the contestants staged behind a replica of a fire hydrant placed at one end of the gym. On command, the team on deck enlisted a teammate to connect the hose to the hydrant, while others ran parallel to two lengths of fire hose laid end-to-end on the floor. The mission was to connect the hoses together and then secure the conjoined hoses to a heavy brass nozzle. A stopwatch counted the seconds.

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON Lt. Shawn Brechtel, of the Merrimack Fire and Rescue department, oversees the hydrant operation as students of the fifth-grade team from James Mastricola Upper Elementary School scramble to complete in the Hose Lay, an event that required the speedy hookup of a fire hose to the fire hydrant and a run down the length of the gym to a point where team members were required to hook two hoses together and secure the hose to a nozzle before making a fast return to the starting point.

Parents, friends and teachers from the schools and staff from the Merrimack Fire and Rescue department populated the venue and much of the seating in the bleachers alongside the wooden floor. Coaches for the teams and firefighter mentors were abundant.

Mastricola Elementary School Principal Michelle Romein, watched from the bleachers as the 15 students from the school competed. Alisha Hansen-Proulx, assistant principal, stayed with the team, offering coaching and hearty applause.

“This is an excellent community event and just one example of the many partnerships between our schools, the firefighters and other community organizations,” Romein said. “It’s a tradition that our students look forward to each year.”

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON A lavishly frosted chocolate cake, provided by Shaw’s supermarket in Merrimack, was enjoyed by all of the participants, including Mastricola Elementary School Assistant Principal Alisha Hansen-Proulx, right, served here by Lt. Shawn Brechtel, left, whose slice of chocolate cake is photobombed with a big scoop of ice cream before Hansen can escape with a lighter plate at the event, a tradition of some 15 years that is generously sponsored by the firefighters’ union, the Professional Firefighters of Merrimack IAFF Local 2904, an organization that provided scores of colorful T-shirts to the participants and other amenities that made the event memorable.