WATCH THE VIDEO | Firefighters converge on Somerset for regional convention | New

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SOMERSET, Pa. — Firefighters from different departments tested their skills Saturday in a competition at the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association annual conference, held for the first time in 22 years at the Somerset Volunteer Fire Department.

The name of the game was “barrel battle”. The team that could use their pipe to blast a barrel over a pulley along a cable over Union Street towards the opposing team’s side won.

Although there was talk of a championship, the teams didn’t care too much about the score at the end of the competition.

“We’re just here to have fun,” Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Bent said. “I think it’s a good event to bring all the firefighters together.”

Saturday activities included a parade and a live disc jockey.

Firefighters from at least 60 Pennsylvania counties were scheduled to arrive in Somerset throughout the four-day conference that began Thursday.

The Battle of the Barrel featured teams from three counties – Somerset, Shanksville and South Connellsville. A fourth team was made up of the “veterans”, the officers of the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association.

The old-timers, all in their 60s, won several rounds against the younger teams, who also had their share of victories against the more experienced team. A crowd of several dozen families and friends from the departments cheered the teams. Food and drink were also for sale.

The conference was aimed at showing the community the family fun that can be had as a member of a volunteer fire department, said the association’s chief executive, JC Tedorski. He is also a member of Arnold Volunteer Fire Engine Company No. 2 in Westmoreland County.

“Today is about being able to show the community that there are fun things to do,” he said.

Tedorski said all departments need volunteers.

“Fire departments have so many tasks beyond firefighting that when young people look at what’s expected of them, they say, ‘No,'” Tedorski said.

He also found a growing trend of employers banning volunteers from leaving work to answer a call. As a result, people who want to become firefighters may have to seek employment outside of the communities where they live, he said.

“It became a choice between department and family, so who wouldn’t choose their family?” said Tedorsky. “But with events like today, we can show them that their whole family is part of the department, and maybe that will attract more members.”

Russ O’Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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