Boyd Robinson finished work last Friday afternoon and began to prepare to transport a 1943 Ford fire truck from Fresno County to Monrovia.
The usual five-hour drive took about seven hours because the fire engine had to be carried on a flat-bed truck. Robinson, a communications technician who is also a volunteer firefighter, finally steered the truck into a Monrovia trailer park about 3 a.m. Saturday and went to bed.
Three hours later, he was up again, not to put out a fire, but to prepare the fire truck for a water pumping competition against fire departments from all over the state.
Robinson and his group of 15 volunteer firefighters from Table Mountain, a 50-square-mile mountainous area northeast of Fresno, were among almost 1,000 firefighters who traveled to Monrovia last weekend for a traditional firemen's muster, in which firefighters gather to socialize and compete in a series of contests designed to test their firefighting skills.
More than 50 fire departments, representing cities from Beverly Hills to Ontario, took part in three days of muster activities that included a parade, a barbecue and a dance.
"The fire department is just one big family. . . . At these musters I meet friends from all over the state," said Stan Bakey, a firefighter with the Arcadia Fire Deparment.
"This is a typical muster in that you have 'firematic' souvenirs. Everything related to fires is here," said Ron Leatz, a former fireman who moved to Whittier from Indiana last year and has attended about 30 musters in his 28-year career.
Surrounding Leatz was an assortment of booths selling everything from a directory of "fire buffs" who collect firefighting souvenirs to cookie jars fashioned in the shape of fire hydrants.
Several old fire engines were on display, including a restored six-cylinder 1928 fire truck that originally sold for $11,830 and now is valued by its owner, the Beverly Hills Fire Department, at $250,000.
Firemen's musters date back to Colonial times, when firemen gathered for social outings and to partake of food, wine, music and good-natured competition.
Musters still are organized in the same tradition all around the country, and some of the competitive events feature equipment similar to that of the 19th Century.
Darrel Wilson, captain of the Monrovia Fire Department, estimated that as many as 10,000 people turned out at the muster on Saturday. Admission was free and visitors spent the day at Library Park looking at displays and watching the competitions.
"This has been an ongoing cooperation with all the fire departments involved," said Wilson, who organized the Monrovia muster.
Monrovia held a smaller muster in 1980, but since the city is celebrating its centennial this year, the Fire Department decided to make it a major event this time around.
"They have gone all-out because this is one of our main events for the centennial," said Monrovia Councilwoman Mary Wilcox.
She added that the muster probably will be the centennial's best attended event.
Proceeds to Charity
Proceeds from the muster went to the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, a nonprofit group that aids children and others recuperating from serious burns.
Wilson said $13,300 was raised Friday, when firefighters from eight fire stations took part in a relay race during which donations for the Ruch foundation were picked up at each stop. Among the donors were the Burbank Fire Department, which gave $5,000, and the Sierra Madre Fire Department, which donated $1,300.
Although the fund-raising efforts were uppermost in many minds, it was the competitive events that captured the interest of most of the firefigthers.
"Last year we set the state record for bucket brigade, but it was broken two weeks later," said Ron Monroe of the Ontario Fire Department.
Bucket Brigade Competition
Throughout Saturday afternoon, groups gathered to practice for the bucket brigade, an event that dates to the early 1600s, in which 50 gallons of water must be moved 20 feet in two-gallon buckets.
"We have a pretty active team," said Monroe as he gauged how long it took his teammates to move 30 empty buckets down a six-person line.
"It's also a lot of fun because everybody gets wet," he said.
The competition was also the major motivation for the group of volunteers from Table Mountain.
That area's firefighting force has 22 members, about half of them women. Most hold full-time jobs and are summoned to fires on electronic paging devices on an average of about twice a week.
The volunteers get together occasionally to practice the bucket brigade, but their strongest event is the motorized pumper, in which they set a state record Saturday morning.
"The events are good exercise and good training," said Phyllis Hannel, the wife of one of the Table Mountain firefighters.
In the motorized pumper event, six team members start out in a fire engine as if responding to a fire. After going 300 feet, the truck stops and the firefighters hook up to a hydrant.