Originally Published: July 6, 2009 11:08 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Yavapai County firefighters not only know how to use water to fight fires; they also know how to use it for fun.
Sunday morning, in front of scores of spectators at the Prescott courthouse plaza, about 125 firefighters and their wives from across the county competed in forgotten firefighting skills such as hose cart races and bucket brigades.
"This is a nice throw-back to the old days," Bill Richards, 80, said after a hose cart race. Richards grew up in Wickenburg and moved to Prescott in 2000. "I watched many a hose cart just like these being used on fires back in the 1930s.
"Back then, the volunteer fire department did not have a fire truck, and the firemen would put hitches on their own cars and hitch the hose cart to their cars and tow them to a fire. Wickenburg did not get its first fire truck until 1936."
"Prescott Fire Department is the oldest fire department in Arizona," Prescott Fire Battalion Chief Ralph Lucas said.
In 1884, Prescott formed its first volunteer fire department. Twenty-five volunteer firemen called themselves "The Toughs Hose Company No. 1," according to Robert Connell Jr. in, "Early Day History of the Prescott Fire Department."
Central Yavapai Fire District Capt. Todd Abel and his three crewmen pulled an antique hose cart in the same manner as the 1884 Toughs Hose Company. Sunday's contest had two teams with their backs to each other. They stood in the middle of Cortez Street, similar to an old-fashioned duel, grasping identical hose carts.
Master of ceremonies Eppie Vicente, owner of ServiceMaster of Prescott, sounded the alarm and the two teams raced their respective carts 200 feet down Cortez Street. Their destinations were fire hydrants located at the corners of Gurley and Goodwin streets.
The fifth teammate lay on the street at the start point waiting for water pressure. The first team that hosed their opponents' orange cone won the race. The prize: bragging rights. "It's not that the cart is very heavy, but it is hard to stop the momentum once you get rolling," Abel said.
In the men's hose cart championship, the Prescott Fire Wet Lightnings beat the Chino Rednecks. The women's Prescott Fire Reds hose cart team defeated the Department of Public Safety Law Dogs for the championship.
In another contest from long-gone firefighting techniques, firefighters, wives and friends lined up in five-person teams for a bucket brigade contest. The contest had a team member filling buckets from a horse trough while teammates passed it to other waiting hands and filled a 55-gallon barrel.
The team to fill its barrel first won the contest. The children loved it.
In the men's bucket brigade, the Chino Rednecks defeated the Department of Public Safety Law Dogs with the Central Yavapai Fire Nozzelmen placing third.
The ladies Prescott Fire Reds defeated the Prescott Fire 2 Whites for the championship.
As soon as Vicente declared a winner, children swarmed the trough and turned the area into a free-for-all water fight. Tasha Douglas, married to a Chino Valley firefighter, stood on the sidelines drenched in water after winning her first bucket brigade contest.
"I was born and raised in Prescott and this the first time I have ever done this," she said. "It is absolutely awesome. I am definitely coming back next year."
While children and adults played in water, many firefighters renewed friendships with firefighters from other departments.
Bob Kaufman, former Mayer Fire District board member, drove from Mayer for the event.
"I just came to support Mayer," he said. "I'm their head cheerleader with pom-poms."
As the sun climbed high in the morning sky, and the air became hot, increasing numbers of children swarmed from the plaza drawn to the bucket brigade's trough-full of cool water.
Although the children at times created pandemonium, it added to the family oriented event.
"This is good clean fun," one spectator observed.