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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2003

Firefighters

Palisade fire department pulls off another victory
 
Annual Lakes Area Firefighters Competition
 
by John Grones and Cynthia Brekke  |  August 12, 2003
 

It has been said that the Annual Lakes Area Firefighters Competition, which was held Sun., Aug. 3, is the largest in the state of Minnesota. Largest or not, it has to be one of the most entertaining events of the summer.

This year, the event featured a few new twists, turns and a dramatic ending. The team competition wasn’t decided until after the final race, and a new ‘Ultimate Firefighter’ snuck in to defeat the defending champion.

The team events were extremely competitive, and it was a strong start by the Ironton Fire Department which forced the rest of the teams to play catch-up. Ironton took first place in the first two events: the tug-of-war and the hose relay. These victories gave them six points, a lead that many felt would be tough to overcome.

But, not to worry. The Palisade Fire Department maintained their composure, remaining steady and consistent. They even had a little help from some of the other teams, and scored in five of the seven events, making things interesting during the last two. It would be the Water Ball competition that would set the stage for the dramatic finish. Ironton won, positioning them in first place with a total of 10 points, while Palisade placed second, giving them an eight-point total. Defending champs, the Aitkin Fire Department, were knocked out by the McGregor crew, but remained within striking distance at seven points.

Down by two, it was crunch time for Palisade, who needed a first place in the final event, the Obstacle Course, to come out on top overall. They also needed a little more help from the other fire departments, whose finishes would help knock the others out of contention. Palisade got both. Not only did they place first, but McGregor placed second and Pequot Lakes secured third, thwarting Ironton’s and Aitkin’s chances for victory. The Palisade Fire Department, hosts of the Lakes Area Competition, landed their seventh, top-place finish in 16 years of the event, with their last victory recorded in 2000.

Eight departments participated in this year’s competition, with the Emily Fire Department joining for their first time. They celebrated a first-place finish in the Canoe Race. Other first-place finishes included: Ironton (Tug-of-War, Hose Relay and Water Ball); McGregor (Bucket Brigade); and Palisade (Buddy Race and Obstacle Course).

The ‘Ultimate’ challenge

Last year, a new event, ‘Ultimate Firefighter’, was added to the competition and sponsored by COOL 101.5. After competing in all the other events, all day, ready to relax, one man from each of the crews stepped up to the challenge. In 2002, Palisade’s Kent Oleson won it in 57 seconds. He improved his time by two seconds this year, but lost a tight race to McGregor newcomer, Dan Maznio. Dan not only took first, but came in with a new, record time of 53.22 seconds.

Dan graduated from McGregor in 1988. He lived in Florida for a short time, then moved with wife, Denise, to Carthage, South Dakota, to work with her father and brother on the family’s farm. It was there that Dan became a firefighter, taking the Firefighter 1 course and joining the volunteer department in 1990.

“There aren’t a lot of hands in a real, small town (about 200 at the time), so I decided to do it and help out there,” Dan said. He was on the department until he and Denise moved back to the McGregor area in 1997. He worked with Top of the Line Landscaping for starters, then began his Taping & Drywall business. He and Denise have two children, Zachary (age 9) and Kassidy (age 5).

With some encouragement from Kevin Anderson, Dan joined the McGregor Fire Department in September of 2002, jumping right from the frying pan and into the fire. “The first weekend I was on, I think there was about six fires,” he commented. “Then, after that, it slowed down to where there was maybe one in two or three weeks.” This surprised him a little, but not when factoring in the increased amount of structures in this area compared to Carthage, So. Dak.

Did Dan plan to achieve the ‘Ultimate Firefighter’ status when he went to the Firefighter’s competition? Well, let’s just say it was like, ‘spontaneous combustion’.

“No, they just asked if I’d like to try it and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot’. I was just hoping to help out the team a little,” he laughed. “I thought it would be kinda fun to try it.” Dan didn’t realize that the ‘Ultimate Firefighter’ phase was separate from the rest of the competition, and didn’t count toward the team standing. He was wore out, but went for it anyway. “I had just done that same obstacle course, with the team, right before that,” he said.

“The whole competition is just a lot of fun,” Dan reflected. “We went and watched it last year, before I got on the fire department, and we had a blast just watching it.” At that point, he thought it would be fun to be in the competition, but didn’t think he would be. Now, of course, he’s obtained the title of ‘Ultimate Firefighter’.

Dan credits the crew of the McGregor Fire Department, and has really enjoyed being one of them. Winning the ‘Ultimate’ competition, in his view, gave the McGregor department a little plug over the rest. “We made him what he is, with just a little help from his mother, Betty,” joked fellow firefighter, Scott Turner.

Does the McGregor crew treat him differently? Dan laughed again. “The other day, when I walked into the hall for a meeting, Jon Passer had brought one of his little boy’s Superman costumes and he says to me: ‘Dan, Denise told me to pick up your dry cleaning’.”

This article first appeared in the August 12, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.