PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An estimated 650 firefighters from 75 fire departments throughout Maine will converge on the city this weekend for the 47th annual Maine State Federation of Firefighters State Convention.
The fete runs Sept. 10-12 and its host this year will be the Presque Isle Fire Department. It is slated to be one of the larger conventions held in past years, Grant Spinney, convention chairman and Presque Isle firefighter, said Tuesday.
“We hosted the convention in 1979 and 1989, so it has been 21 years since we’ve had this in Presque Isle,” he said. “We have made this convention larger than conventions in the past. We’ve got a lot of activities for people to do, so this isn’t just for firefighters.”
The firefighter convention occurs at a different location in the state each year. The last time it was held in Aroostook County was in 2005, when it took place in Houlton.
Spinney said that organizers have been planning for the event for “about three years” as they lined up activities, planned events and secured financial resources.
“We have about 100 volunteers who have helped us get ready and will be helping us all weekend,” Spinney said. “We also have been told that we have double the usual number of attendees already, so we are pretty happy about that. This has been a real collaborative effort between the firefighters and other organizers.”
One of the major events that is always a crowd pleaser is the parade on Saturday, which will feature firetrucks, firefighters, firefighting apparatus, bands and floats. Law enforcement officers from local, county, state and federal departments and agencies also will participate. The 2-mile parade begins at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and will snake along Main Street before turning onto Park Street and Parsons Road and then linking to Mechanic Street to end at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds.
All day Saturday, events will take place on the fairgrounds. Vendors will sell food and other merchandise, and visitors also can buy tickets to ride on Big Red. A 1937 International firetruck turned monster truck, Big Red is the world’s longest and heaviest monster truck. Rides will be available for $10 a person at the fairgrounds throughout the afternoon after the parade. Spinney said that proceeds from the event would benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Casco for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Spinney added that booths will be set up Saturday and Sunday at the Exhibition Building on the fairgrounds featuring vendors from all over New England. Demonstrations will include firefighters showing how they battle car fires and cars being cut up by a company that sells hydraulic extrication tools to fire departments across the nation.
On the fairgrounds after the parade, visitors will have a chance to meet and get autographs from actor Randolph Mantooth, who played paramedic and firefighter Johnny Gage on the TV show “Emergency,” which aired on NBC in the early 1970s. Show memorabilia and photographs will be available for purchase and personalization. Proceeds will benefit the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum’s James O. Page Memorial Building Fund.
Organizers are planning a memorial at 2 p.m. Sept. 11 to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The ceremony will be held on the fairgrounds.
The convention always includes a banquet and awards ceremony, which will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center. Spinney said that the banquet usually is followed by a dance, but the Presque Isle Fire Department wanted to change things up this year and include the public in the celebration. They will be accomplishing that by holding a comedy show featuring Maine comedian Bob Marley. It will take place after the banquet, beginning at 8:30 p.m. at The Forum. Tickets are $15.
“We really think this is something the public is going to enjoy,” Spinney said Tuesday. “It’s an added attraction that we put in, and its something that is not usually included in the convention.”
On Sunday morning, a firefighters muster will take place on the fairgrounds. More than 30 fire departments have signed up to compete. The Presque Isle Kiwanis Club will hold a fundraiser to benefit the club and the Star City’s volunteer firefighters on the fairgrounds after the muster.
The convention typically has a significant economic impact on the host city or town, and this year will be no exception, according to Spinney.
“Every hotel in Presque Isle has been booked for the last 2½ months,” he said Tuesday. “We have referred people to the surrounding campgrounds and to hotels in Caribou and the surrounding area. We also expect the restaurants and other businesses to be pretty busy, as we will have a lot of visitors in The County this weekend.”
For information, visit www.pifd.org.