Merrimack Fire and Rescue hosts annual Junior Fire Muster, a tradition of a decade for student competitors

The Merrimack Fire and Rescue Department hosted its annual Junior Fire Muster on March 29, at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School, 26 Baboosic Lake Road. Organizers said the competition has become a tradition that’s run around a decade and is greatly anticipated as a spring challenge among the students.

Battling for a handsome trophy, an authentic fire bell mounted upon a quilted aluminum background, were teams of fourth-graders and fifth-graders from Reeds Ferry School, Thorntons Ferry School, James Mastricola Elementary School and James Mastricola Upper Elementary. A contingent of firefighter mentors and school staffers was on-hand to advise and assist the youngsters as the competition – held in the gym – progressed.

The winner of the trophy this year was the team that represented James Mastricola Elementary School. The trophy will be engraved with the name of the school and will be displayed in the school until next year. Then, it will be passed on to the new champion, unless JMES wins another bout.

The winning school’s assistant principal, Jay Gratton, and the school’s fire department mentor, firefighter and paramedic Bill Pelrine, congratulated all of the participants. Gratton said the event generates much excitement each spring.

“They’re showing a lot of good spirit,” Gratton said of the students. “The kids in the school show a lot of enthusiasm for this event.”

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Borneman said students from the participating schools were divided into 15 teams, each comprised of five students. There were rounds of loud cheering as each vied for the trophy by registering a speedy time in each of three events – the Dry Hose Connection, the Midnight Alarm and the Bucket Brigade.

Borneman added that the Junior Fire Muster historically has taken place on the last weekend of March.

“It’s a great event,” Borneman said. “The kids have a lot of fun.”

The challenges included feats of speed and coordination. Students, upon command, quickly ran a straight course to connect a fire hose to a hydrant. In another quest, they dressed in helmets and firefighter overalls and ran to the far end of the gym and back again. Relay races with pails filled with plastic pellets were another of the trials. The runner, in that challenge, needed to make a fast beeline to the far end of the gym and dump the pellets into a bin before returning to the starting position. Another runner, pail in hand, then launched toward the bin.

The site of the contest was a blur of color. Souvenir T-shirts in bright colors were provided by Local 2904 of the International Association of Firefighters, an organization representing Merrimack’s professional firefighters.

The calm that prevailed at the opening ceremony of the games as everyone stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence in honor of those harmed during last year’s Boston Marathon quickly dissipated as the enthusiasm level escalated throughout the morning’s games.

According to its website, iaff-2904.org, the firefighters Local 2904 strives to gives back to the community in various ways. It sponsors an Oil Fund Assistance program, Thanksgiving Day meal donations, Santa Fund donations and scholarship programs. Local 2904 also hosts a number of CPR classes for the public. The keepsake T-shirts donated that day were appreciated.

Capt. John Manuele, fire marshal, applauded along with the contenders, the staffers and the fire department’s mentors who attended the event. He noted that a full shift of eight firefighters plus six who came in during their off-duty time enhanced the experience for all involved.

Two large sheet cakes decorated in red trim over white frosting reflected a firefighter theme. The cake made a sweet treat for everyone in attendance at the end of the event. The treat was contributed by Ken Caira, manager of the Market Basket on Northwestern Boulevard in Nashua.

Keith Hines, firefighter mentor to the team from Reeds Ferry School, said that the event offers some positive lessons related to working together and taking pride in one’s school. The school’s assistant principal, Nick Coler, concurred. He added that Laura Jaynes, a fourth-grade teacher, comes out every year to support the event, as do many teachers, volunteers and parents.

“There is teamwork and fun that builds good morale,” Hines said. “We have a great time.”

Numerous spectators watched the kids go through the drills. Ray Dore, of Litchfield, and his father-in-law, Neal Invester, were among the relatives watching the bouts. Dore’s two youngsters, Morgan, 9, a student at Reeds Ferry School, and Ryan, 11, attended the muster. Ryan, who attends the upper elementary school, donned a mascot’s outfit – a tiger costume – and in the spirit of volunteerism rallied the Reeds Ferry team to perform with ever mounting gusto. Dore and Ivester both agreed that the Junior Fire Muster was an experience not to be missed by any student inclined to participate.

“It was a great way to build their confidence,” Dore said. “It also builds mental preparedness. They had to get up early.”

For more information on the Junior Fire Muster hosted by the Merrimack Fire and Rescue Department, call the fire office at 424-3690.