HOUGHTON - With temperatures in the upper 80s Saturday, it was a great day for a firefighters tournament. A great day to get wet, that is.
The Houghton Fire Department hosted this year's Copper Country Volunteer Firefighters Association Tournament. From the start of the race to the kids in the peanut gallery, water was a major element of the spouses' race. Firefighters and their significant others burst from outhouses, put on firefighting gear in a soaking shower of spray, ran their hose up to a mark and took aim at a pipe attached to a large bucket, trying to fill the bucket in the fastest possible time, soaking a small pack of children in the process
They had stationed themselves behind the target to revel in the spray.
But as fun a time as it was, even the kids recognized a more serious side to the day's events, and what their dads and moms on the departments do for the community.
Rachel Brandt, 12, said the kids were proud of their parents "because they're saving lives." Her dad, she said, fights fires with the Stanton Township Fire Department.
For the fourth straight year, the Allouez Township Fire Department was the overall winner of the tournament, which was held this year along the Houghton Waterfront just east of the Portage Lake District Library.
John Cimi, of the Allouez FD said the department puts in a few training sessions before the tournament, but is never fully prepared for the surprises organizers throw at them.
"There are twists every year, they don't say what they are before the race," he said, but added that training is relevant to actual firefighting even when it doesn't help in the race.
Annette Butina of the Adams Township Fire and First Responders agreed that it was impossible to prepare for everything the races throw at them.
"We don't normally come out of outhouses," she said, and "we don't actually have holes in the buckets."
What they do have, she said, is "a really tight brotherhood" among all the departments.
"If you're a fireman here and something happens, it's family," she said.
Laurium took second place overall in the tournament, with Adams Township third. Butina said 16 of 22 departments that make up the CCVFFA participated.
When Adams took second place in the spouses race, she noted, it was the first time since 1903, when they were the Atlantic Mine Fire Department, they'd brought home a trophy.
The association presented several annual awards during the day. Jim Balma of Adams Township was awarded Firefighter of the Year for his 30 years with the department.
The other big winner was the Quincy-Franklin-Hancock Township VFD which took Department of the Year.
They also recognized Lake Linden firefighter Andy Kotila with a Meritorious Service award and Chuck Junot, Al Butkovich, Thomas Fisher and Shelley Lutz for Citizen awards, all for their actions battling a Kearsarge Street fire in Laurium with garden hoses until the Laurium Fire Department arrived.
There was also a burning house simulator at the event, which various departments use for training and to train children how to react in a fire.
About 70 kids and several adults went through the simulator, according to the Houghton Fire Department's Ron Olson. The simulator teaches kids to look for two ways out in a fire, he said, and the fake smoke teaches them to get close to the floor and crawl out of danger.
"So many crawl in a closet, or under a bed, and stay there," Olson said. "This helps them think how to get out. The last thing we want is to have a kid left in a fire."