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West Hempstead Westerners Win State Championship

Fire Department drill team brings home first NYS title in more than 60 years.

Coming off three strong, second place finishes in motorized tournaments in Nassau County, West Hempstead's fire drill team was feeling good heading into the New York State Championship.

Still, it had been 38 years since a Nassau County team other than the Hempstead Hornets had taken home the state title, and even longer -- 61 years -- since West Hempstead had its name inscribed on the trophy. So while expectations were high, the 16 members of the Westerners knew what they were up against.

"The way this sport works is that there have always been two to three absolutely dominant teams and in this era of racing, it's been West Sayville and Central Islip," says Andrew Brohm, 21, who co-captains the team with ex-chief Craig Hayes, 34, a 15-year racing veteran.

"If they have a good day, no one's beating them," Brohm added. "They have the bodies, they have the money, they have everything you need to be a great team and they've all been together for decades."

In contrast, West Hempstead's team -- which also includes Brohm's father Kenny, Ismael Villalba, Jonathan Poirot, Shawna Bennett, Anthony Rizzo, Patrick Gaffney, Kenneth Conn, Ray Magarie, Peter Lilli, Gerard Boettcher, Robert Di Monda, John Moskowski, Ralph Nicholes Sr. and Ralph Nicholes Jr. -- is fairly young, comprised of mostly guys (and one girl) in their twenties and thirties. "We have five or six members running key spots who have only been in for a year or two," says Brohm, who's been racing for four years. 

Although the Westerners were one of the best teams in Nassau County from 1985 to 1993, Brohm says they hit "a bit of a rut" from 1995 to 2002. They continued to race, but only recently became competitive again after a batch of new recruits joined in 2003, "jump-starting" the team.

Knowing all this, Brohm says, the team would've been "disappointed" not to place at all at the 60-team state championship held on Aug. 18 in Main Transit, N.Y., after the season they had so far. But they weren't expecting a victory.

A poll conducted prior to the tournament though had West Hempstead tied with Central Islip and West Savyille as the favorites to win it all, and those who placed their bets on the Westerners were right.

The Westerners took points in six out of eight of the events, finishing first in B Hose and B Ladder.

"Going into Buckets, we were down two points so we had to come in third place or better to win the tournament," Brohm recalls. "West Sayville went before us and could have won, but they ran a high time and didn't earn any points. The only team who could beat us was Roslyn. No one else could catch up."

Roslyn, another young team who surprised everyone by finishing second, also over-timed in Buckets, while West Hempstead placed third in the event, bringing their overall points tally to 20 and earning them the state title.

"It's still a huge blur," Brohm says. "It was so surreal to everybody.”

The Westerners had practiced for more than 120 hours for five months to prepare for the eight tournaments they competed in this season and devoted countless hours to fundraising, along with their supportive alumni. But as Brohm, explains, it’s all worth it.

Not only does the drill team help the fire department recruit and retain members, but it also keeps them in shape, strengthens bonds among firefighters and prepares them for the situations they face when respond to an actual call.

“You get a lot more confidence,” adds Brohm. 

Keith September 10, 2012 at 08:31 PM
38 years since a Nassau team last won is incorrect. The Hempstead Yellow Hornets won in 1984, 1985, 2002 and 2006.
Tara Conry (Editor) September 10, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Keith, I apologize for the inaccurate statement. It was a misunderstanding that has since been corrected. Thanks for the feedback! -Tara
joseph a. October 19, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Congrats to our community firefighters!! BUT I have a question . What does this "sport" cost us as taxpayers for their trucks,equipment,etc? And what does this have to do with putting out fires etc in our community. With our economy so poor how can we afford to support these teams. I also read this year about a fireman who was on a team in Elmont who was severly injured at one of these events and the Elmont fire dept closed down the team. Does every fire department have a team? Can someone who know about how this team is funded please respond. Thanks
joseph a. October 19, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Congrats to our community firefighters!! BUT I have a question . What does this "sport" cost us as taxpayers for their trucks,equipment,etc? And what does this have to do with putting out fires etc in our community. With our economy so poor how can we afford to support these teams. I also read this year about a fireman who was on a team in Elmont who was severly injured at one of these events and the Elmont fire dept closed down the team. Does every fire department have a team? Can someone who know about how this team is funded please respond. Thanks
Tara Conry (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Joseph, I can't speak for all teams, but I did ask this question to the Westerners and they said their team and its large alumni base hold fundraisers throughout the year to pay for the expenses. I've actually attended some of the competitions and they focus on firefighting skills including setting up and climbing ladders, working with hydrants, hoses, and vehicles, with points awarded to the teams who are most efficient. It's also been explained to me that this "sport" helps attract and retain members, especially young people, (who as you know are all volunteers) improves morale and keeps them in shape.
joseph a. October 20, 2012 at 10:59 AM
Tara, Thanks for the insite but are tax dollars used to pay for there trucks , equipment, etc? And I understand the training but based on the list of team members this is only a handful of members of the fire department. so does that mean the rest of the members of the fire department aren't in shape and have a morale issue? Its all about whats necessary in these tough times to operate. Is this something as residents we should want ? i rather take the money and use it to buy materials and equipment for the regular members and trucks that are used for our protection. Joe.

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