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Engines roar at firefighters’s convention finale

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NORFOLK — The smell of fuel and burning rubber filled the air as the souped-up vehicles tore down Clinton Street, men clinging at the back, prepared to leap into action. Firematics races returned to Norfolk Saturday to wrap up the 117th annual Northern New York Volunteer Fireman’s Association Convention.

“It’s the ride of a lifetime,” said Richard J. Bump, first assistant chief of the Norfolk Fire Department.

Spectators watched from bleachers lining the streets as seven teams competed for the best time in ten categories.

Once a truck stops at the end of the short course, firefighters leap from the back, raising a ladder as one climbs to a platform nearly 20 feet high.

Although most of the convention events were held in Potsdam, Norfolk had the space for the races. Both the Potsdam and Norfolk departments raised donations from local businesses to fund the convention, which started Thursday.

“A lot of support from businesses made it all come together,” said Norfolk Fire Department President Thomas P. McGrath.

The convention brought hundreds of firefighters to the area, representing 62 departments across 10 counties. Businesses in Potsdam and Norfolk put up signs to welcome the boost in tourism.

At 9:30 a.m. Saturday the convention parade marched the streets of Potsdam, but the races provided the finale.

Saturday’s races were delayed because of rain, but the weather was clear by 2 p.m. Kids played carnival games and covered their ears at the revving of the noisy engines.

The Norfolk Snails race team participates in five or six races a year. The Snails re-formed in 2009, having been dormant since the late ’80s.

“It’s very competitive. We have a lot of young members, so they give it their best,” Mr. McGrath said.

Some of the department’s firefighters remember the team as a powerhouse before it disbanded, and hope the younger racers can reclaim that glory.

“Nobody could beat Norfolk years ago,” said convention chairman Jason A. Clark.

The Snails meet twice a week to practice, Mr. Bump said.

“It just takes a lot of teamwork from everybody on the department,” he said.

The teams proudly display their previous wins with decals on their customized vehicles.

The West Carthage Hornets have plenty of history to be proud of; the team has been around since the 1950s, recalled member Alan L. Flynn.

“My grandfather did it back in the early ’50s. My uncles did it in the ’60s. Now my son is captain of the team,” he said.

Firematics will return to Norfolk later this summer for the town’s annual Labor Day races.

Not everybody enjoys the thought of grasping the back of a speeding truck, barreling down the course only to leap off and scale a hastily-raised ladder. But the excitement and camaraderie makes firematics like nothing else, according to Mr. Bump.

“Once you get on, you won’t ever want to get off,” he said.

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