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Posted May 2, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Not your ordinary rodeo

Zachary Woskobunik tries out the horn
Zachary Woskobunik, 2, of Winchester, tries out the horn of a 1929 Model AA Ford pumper at the sixth annual Fire Truck Rodeo at Millbrook High School on Friday. Dennis Grundman/Daily

A contestant at the Fire Truck Rodeo
A contestant at the Fire Truck Rodeo at Millbrook High School attempts to parallel park without hitting the curb. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Spectators react at the Fire Truck Rodeo
Spectators react as a fire truck tries to park at the fire truck rodeo at Millbrook High School. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- For emergency medical technicians, maneuvering through busy traffic en route to an emergency requires a great deal of precision and patience. Apparently, so does driving between dozens of traffic cones.

Firefighter EMTs gathered at Millbrook High School early Friday morning to take part in the sixth annual Fire Truck Rodeo, which was sponsored by the Volunteer Fireman's Insurance Service. With more than 40 people looking on from the sidewalks and lawns adjacent to the high school parking lot, the participants were tasked with driving down a straight line and backing up inside a firetruck. They also practiced their parallel parking skills and drove through simulated alleyways, all while driving between traffic cones with the goal of not knocking any down.

The rodeo and an antique equipment show were among a handful of firefighter activities being held in conjunction with the 82nd Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

Trophies were later awarded to first-, second-, third- and fourth-place winners. But, the rodeo wasn't so much about winning the competition as it was helping firefighters improve their driving skills, event coordinator Ron Cromer said. The driving course was designed for a standard Class A Pumper with a wheelbase in excess of 150 inches and a single axle.

"What we do in this area is use this course in order to train our drivers. And it makes the driver know how to back up, where the four points of the vehicle is all the time, and where the pivot point of the vehicle is. And as long as they know that, they're going to be a good driver," Cromer said.

About 22 fire companies were expected to participate in the rodeo, Cromer said. Volunteers arrived at the high school at 8 a.m. to begin laying out cones for the competition amid light rain showers. The rodeo was to begin at 8:30 a.m. rain or shine. But, officials said that some contestants may have naturally assumed the competition was called off because of the weather, and few of them showed up early on.

By 10 a.m., drivers from five fire companies had arrived to help jump-start the rodeo.

City Firefighter EMT Paul Burroughs, 28, says, driving a firetruck through a set of cones isn't as easy as it looks.

"It's pretty difficult. For the most of it, it's something that [some of us have] never driven before," Burroughs said after completing the course.

Having events like this to help EMTs sharpen their skills for emergency response situations makes a big difference, Burroughs said. "It's very important, especially in the city with the tighter streets and stuff like that," Burroughs said.

Greenwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue squad EMT Todd Drummond was eager to find out how he fared in the rodeo. "How'd I do? Did I knock down any cones?" Drummond gleefully asked Cromer, who assured the firefighter that he had done well.

The rodeo was a fun challenge, though some tasks in the competition were needed more than others, Drummond said.

"It's difficult because you have to watch all the corners. You've just got to watch what you're doing, try not to go too fast," Drummond said. "It's probably the one thing you don't ever do in real life [with a firetruck] is parallel parking."

Across from the rodeo, people were taking a peek at modern and antique firefighting units, including a 1952 squad wagon custom built for the Roanoke Fire Department. Most of the vehicles on display were manufactured between the 1920s and 1970s, said Allen Bond, a member of the Old Dominion Historical Fire Society.

"Most of them are privately owned. A lot of [the people who own them] had memories of firetrucks when they were kids," Bond said.

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