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SALISBURY — Up until the moment Raheem Cruse fired off the starting line, coiled in fire hose, his teammates were still making changes to the obstacle course game plan.
The Atwell Junior Firefighters team, which included some Enochville Fire juniors, battled the heat and 14 other teams from across the state, including two teams from Texas, at Miller Ferry’s sixth annual Junior Firefighters Muster on Saturday.
Teams competed in a number of events, like tug-of-war and the Junior Firefighters challenge.
During a brief intermission between events, Tyler Hill, 17, and Alicia Barlow, 15 — members of the Atwell team — decided on a quick change: they wanted to move the 185-pound body faster.
The body, a mannequin clad in a fire suit, had to be moved about 25 feet to the finish line — the final stage of the challenge.
Unlike some of the other teams, they decided picking it up by the head and feet could be quicker.
“Actually, the idea that we had made it a lot easier,” Hill said. “We didn’t have the force on the ground.”
The Junior Firefighters Muster, which typically permits 14- to 18-year-olds, is designed to pit young firefighters against each other in competitions, all the while building camaraderie amongst the teams.
But the matches don’t come at a cost.
Some of the loudest cheering often comes from teams’ fiercest opponents and the largest trophy for the event is the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award.
Barlow, who was at her second muster, said the event helps youngsters learn to depend on their fellow firefighters.
“To me, it’s really fun and I’m a very competitive person so I like to push my teammates as far as they can go,” she said. “It’s also just a fun event to get to know people and see who I’d be working with if I had an actual fire.”
For many of the dozens of young firefighters, some role in firefighting is a future goal. For others, it’s a career path.
Cruse, a 16-year-old who works at Enochville Fire, said he hopes to continue as a volunteer at the department until he can go to a “career station.”
“I think this event right here teaches someone to accept new challenges, face new challenges and don’t be scared to go against something that you don’t know,” Cruse said, while watching a fellow team run the course. “Like, you’re sitting at the station, you can have a slow day, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Other events, like the bucket brigade, taught youngsters about the history of firefighting.
Deborah Horne, an assistant fire investigator and one of the event’s organizers, said juniors are taught to focus on their teammates and to work together toward the goal.
“You never leave your partner behind. If you see your partner having trouble, don’t worry about the time,” Horne said. “That’s what we’re stressing to these guys. It’s not one person, it’s a team.”
Another organizer, Julie Shinn, who works as a paramedic for the Rowan Rescue Squad, said the competitions are meant to instill the principles of firefighting.
“Being a firefighter is not a lone wolf sport. It’s not something that you do by yourself. Never ever is there a firefighter alone,” Shinn said. “Even in these turnout races, they all must be dressed before they run. We don’t go into a fire by ourselves. We don’t leave our buddies behind. We’re going in together and we’re coming out together.”
After the first three phases of the challenge — a hose sprint and shoot, a simulated force-entry drill, called a Keiser, and a tube and cone run, Locke Jr. Firefighter Brandon Corriher waited beside his lifeless dummy.
Using his weight and his legs, he pulled the fake victim backwards across the line to a cheering crowd.
“It teaches you that you’re not always going to be good out here. You’re going to have your good days and your bad days,” the 16-year-old said. “I think it teaches you to have more self confidence and respect what you’re doing.”
Horne said the county’s departments would like to send their young teams to the national competition if they can raise the funds.
“The goal is for these kids to train and go to the national competition in Bristol, Tenn., if everybody can raise the money to go,” she said. “I want those readers to know that we hear so much about what kids are doing bad — these are some fantastic youngsters with some fantastic mentors that are doing great things for their communities.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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