BATH — A cheer erupted from the 40 or 50 fireman’s muster team members gathered in downtown Bath Saturday afternoon as both Bath teams, Sen. Baxter and Quansigamog, were declared winners, defending their title as champions of the country’s oldest continued organized sport.
The fireman’s muster is said to have started in Bath in 1849. One hundred and seventy years later, the annual firemen’s muster still happens in downtown Bath, using fire engines built in 1853 and 1856.
Teams from all over New England come to hand-pump 1800s firefighting equipment, competing to see which team can shoot the longest stream of water in 15 minutes.
A suction hose goes into the water tank, which is kept full from a hydrant or a tanker truck, according to the Bath Heritage Days website. The foreman stands on top and keeps an eye on wind conditions. The pipe crew handles the nozzle and aims the water down a line of red resin paper. The farthest dime-sized drop of water recorded on the paper wins.
Bath’s Sen. Baxter, the larger of the two engines, shot 181 feet 9 inches, and their smaller engine, Quansigamog, shot 163 feet 4 inches.
The fireman’s muster in 1981. The event is a longstanding Bath tradition, said to have started in 1849, and is one that the current generation of participants is trying to keep alive. (Courtesy of Bath Heritage Days)
The Protection No. 1 from Newbury, Massachusetts, took home the second-place title for Class A with 177 feet 2.5 inches, and the only other Class B competitor, Hancock No. 128 from Ashburnham, Massachusetts, registered 147 feet 1.5 inches.
John Nibarger, who has been doing the fireman’s muster for about 16 years, said the wind and the crew have a lot to do with a team’s chance of victory, but in terms of skill and planning, it really comes down to “brute strength and endurance.”
While the Bath teams and their competitors are “adversaries for 15 minutes,” in reality they are all “200 big old family members” working to preserve what Nibarger calls the “interactive living history of firefighting.”
Many of the team members have been participating in the long-running fireman’s muster since they were young, but now the majority of the team is between 30 and 40 years old, he said, though the full age range is from 20 to 70.
In 2016, Bath won its first championship title. The teams travel all over New England to compete. In August, the teams head to Salem, Massachusetts, and finish the season in October in Woolwich.
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“We’re trying to keep a dying sport alive,” Hahn said. “This is history. This is how they used to put out fires. They teach (history) in school, why not here in Bath?”
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