Practice and technique pay off at the Mountain Top Days bucket brigade

Aug 11, 2022 | Front Page, Running Springs

By Derek Johnson
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer

A variety of games for kids and adults were held at the Running Springs Mountain Top Days on Aug. 6 at the farmers market. Kids enjoyed games like Rolling Rims, Rim Toss, the Tricycle Cone Race and the Soaked Sponge Relay Race, but the spectator favorite was the first responder bucket brigade.

In the bucket brigade, three fire departments – Arrowbear Fire, Running Springs Fire and Cal Fire – faced off in a timed race to fill up a 107-gallon tub using water transported by bucket from another tub about 20 feet away. This event is designed to showcase the bucket brigade firefighting technique of days past, when it was the only way to transport water, before the advent of high-pressure hoses.

Fire personnel line up in between the tubs, passing buckets back and forth to get the water to the empty tub. The empty tub is outfitted with a special tube containing a ping pong ball. As the tub fills up, the ping pong ball floats higher and higher inside the tube. When enough water is inside the tub, the ping pong ball is forced out of the tube onto the ground, at which point the announcer calls an end to the run and marks down the time. Each department makes a timed run, and the championship trophy is awarded to the department with the fastest time.

“We really enjoy participating in things like this,” said Running Springs Fire Captain Rick Ellsberry. “Events like these are a great way for us to get out and be with the community that we serve.”
In observing the lead up to the race, it was clear that each department was taking a different approach. The Arrowbear Fire Department had a distinct advantage – they were lending out their equipment for the race so, during the setup process, they used the opportunity to hone their technique – something neither of the other departments did.

Before the relay began, Arrowbear Fire Engineer Rick Mesa (an 11-time bucket brigade veteran) explained, “We’re trying a different technique than we have in the past.” It was clear that Arrowbear Fire intended to make a good showing.

When the event began, Arrowbear was the first to go, and they looked like a well-oiled machine, finishing the race in two minutes and six seconds. It was very clear that their practice had paid off – they chose a technique that worked quickly and efficiently, and the repetitions they got before the race allowed them to execute this technique nearly flawlessly.

Next to go were the defending champs, the Running Springs Fire Department. Although they put in an enthusiastic effort, their technique seemed a little more impromptu – there were many bucket collisions, some resulting in dropped buckets, and lost time and water. They finished the race at three minutes and seven seconds.

Finally, Cal Fire had their turn. Spectators noted their technique was clean – it looked deliberate like Arrowbear’s technique but, without the pre-race practice to dial in their rhythm, they weren’t quite as fast as Arrowbear, finishing 14 seconds behind them to take second place with a time of two minutes and twenty seconds.

Spectators witnessed the results of three approaches – practiced deliberate technique, impromptu technique, and unpracticed deliberate technique. This race was living proof of the old adage “practice makes perfect.” Congratulations to Arrowbear Fire on their well-earned victory.

After the race, the kids had an opportunity to try the bucket brigade. They donned their souvenir firefighter hats and formed a line, taking lightly filled buckets and attempted to fill up a tub that had been drained to the halfway point after the firefighters race. With firefighter assistance, they eventually filled up the tub.

After their event, a few kids realized that the souvenir firefighter hats can be filled up with water, allowing them to engage in an aggressive water fight around the basin. Soon thereafter, many kids were thoroughly drenched, and they all seemed to enjoy the relief from the summer heat.

All the attendees had fun watching the Mountain Top Days events, and it was clear that the community of Running Springs enjoyed the chance to come together and enjoy some summer fun.



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