Only in its second year, the gathering is steadily growing in participation and in spectators, who braved the elements to cheer on their community leaders, neighbors and family members. Waynesville Fire Chief Joey Webb Sr. raised the small, candy-apple red bucket trophy in the air, signaling the start of the battle.
“Before, we used to do this in shopping center parking lots and it would get so hot. We hope it gets bigger every year. We have a place for spectators to come watch and be supportive here at the fair,” Webb said. “We train together all the time and this is a way to bring together all the departments, families and friends.”
Quarter-sized raindrops pounded down on the roof of the arena. A swift wind kicked up dust clouds, which limited visibility in the moments leading up to the competition. While the storm passed through as fast as it had arrived, the team portion of the “Battle of the Bucket” commenced. With Central Pigeon Volunteer Fire Department as the defending champion, fire departments from Clyde and North Canton looked to bring home the bucket to their respective towns.
“It’s good morale for the firefighters and it gives the public a little bit of appreciation for what they do on a daily basis, the strenuous work they do,” Webb said. “They’re mostly volunteers. They all work full-time jobs and provide this service for the people.”
An obstacle course stretched from each end of the fairgrounds massive covered arena. With all eyes trained on the starting line, the command is given to begin and the race against the clock is on. One at a time, each team (comprised of four members) grabbed all of their gear (weighing between 50 and 60 pounds), ran the length of the arena and began the harried process of donning their gear. Once all four were suited up — from boots to air tanks — a bright neon flag was swung down like the last lap of the Daytona 500 and they’re off again, barreling down back down to the other end of the arena.
From there, it was a mad dash to unravel the hoses from their fire trucks and trudge through the dirt with hoses hoisted over their shoulders to the far end, where they charge the line and do a momentary water pressure demonstration.
Lastly, the team lugged five-gallon buckets of water — scooped one at a time from a giant pool — to fill up a nearby 50-gallon barrel before sprinting back to the finish line.
When the dust settled, North Canton walked away with the championship bucket, which will remain in their firehouse until next year’s event. Clyde was runner-up, with Central Pigeon taking third.
“The biggest change this year coming into this was to better our endurance,” said Lloyd Messer of the Clyde Fire Department. “It’s ingrained in us in the fire academy to know where your partner is and team work. Make sure we work as a team and not leave anybody behind. You’re only as strong as your weakest member.
In a combat of sheer muscle and determination, part two of the evening was the individual heat.
The solo showdown calls for most of the same challenges, with the added spice of rolling up fire hoses with precision, flipping a large tractor tire end-over-end and dragging a 100-pound mannequin named “Rescue Randy” for 50 feet.
“Just talking to the crowd here, the people had no idea what we actually go through,” Webb said.
Chris Massey (Waynesville) took the individual title. Zack Winifield (Clyde) was runner-up, with Leevon Bible (Central Pigeon) taking third. Other participants included Dee Massey (Waynesville), Cody Parton (Central Pigeon), Ronnie Davis (Central Pigeon), Dan Eaton (Crabtree), Gary Honeycutt (North Canton) and Grayson Sluder (North Canton).
For 20-year-old Gary Honeycutt of the North Canton Fire Department, this year was his first taste of what the “Battle of the Bucket” is all about. Catching his breath after completing the strenuous course, Honeycutt leaned against the fence, sweat rolling down his face. It was a tough task at hand, but Honeycutt was all smiles and looks forward to doing it all again next year.
“This was my first year and I loved it. It was great to show I could do this,” he said. “They said it was going to be hard and kick my hind end. I feel great so far.”
Packing up his gear and shaking hands with other firefighters, Messer sees the competition as a way to strengthen the bond between people who are not only co-workers, but also family and friends.
“This is a great competition and it’s great to get all of these departments together,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood.”