Here come the county’s firefighters

Hundreds of volunteer firefighters from across Suffolk County will descend on Riverhead Saturday to determine which department is best at answering that emergency call — at least when pitted against one another during a friendly competition.

The massive event, hosted by the Suffolk County Parade and Drill Team Captain’s Association and the Riverhead Fire Department, will kick off with a drill competition at 9 a.m. and conclude with a 6- to 8-p.m. parade.

The drill competition will feature ladder and fire truck races and a bucket brigade — where an assembly line of firefighters works to fill a large drum with water — among other events.

Harold Schaefer, a 67-year veteran of the Riverhead department, who was on the front lines fighting blazes until he was about 75 years old, will lead the parade as grand marshal that evening.

Paul Suskind, a Bay Shore firefighter and president of the drill and parade association, said about 22 departments are expected to compete in the drills and more than 50 are expected to march in the parade. He said preparations can take more than a year for the host team.

“Holding the county parade is a pretty big deal,” he said, noting the Suffolk competition and parade is the largest in the state.

Riverhead last held the event 24 years ago.

Firefighters will be competing for trophies and with them, bragging rights.

Riverhead firefighter Bill Sanok said that winning drill competitions is a major source of pride for many volunteer firefighters.

“If you go into any department, they’re all proud of their trophy case,” he said, adding that the question of where to put Riverhead’s trophy cases was seriously considered when designing the new Roanoke Avenue fire headquarters.

The competition will be held at a track located between Apple Honda and the Riverhead Armory on Route 58. As the host team, Riverhead is disqualified from taking home any trophies because they are considered to have a home court advantage.

Riverhead was chosen to host the event this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its drill team, the Ironmen. The team won the state championship in 1935, the first year it was formed, and has taken multiple state and county championships since then.

Mr. Sanok said about 20 of the department’s volunteers belong to the drill team, most of them younger firefighters.

The parade will start on Roanoke Avenue and continue north to the Route 58 traffic circle. Participants will then head west, ending at the drill site on Route 58. As a result, Route 58 will be closed for approximately two hours until the parade wraps up about 8 p.m.

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