November 26, 2021

Letting off some steam

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cincinnatus firefighter Mike Szabelski leads his team in a snow tubing race Saturday during the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York Winter Games at Greek Peak in Virgil.

The firefighters weren’t heading to a call as they put their turnout gear on and raced out the door. They were heading to the top of a snow-covered hill carrying tubes ready to race each other down.

It was the first event of the 14th annual Firemen’s Associations State of New York’s winter games over the weekend at Greek Peak in Virgil and SUNY Cortland in Cortland.

It was Cincinnatus firefighter Mike Szabelski’s first time taking part. He led the team down the hill for the tubing races.

“I love it and I love these guys,” he said, smiling and out of breath.

The event, which saw 42 departments participate, is partially meant to build skills firefighters would use on the job and to build teamwork.

Marathon firefighter Ben Griep
is covered with ice and snow after a winning heat in a snow tubing race.

“Firefighters are often in a situation where they aren’t alone, but working as a team,” said Doug VanEtten, a Homer firefighter who serves on the games organizing committee. “This is a fun way of working on those skills.”

Some of the other events on Saturday included tubing, tug-o-war, a hose race and broomball. The overall winner was the Killawog Fire Department.

The event was also a good time for the men and women to socialize.

“There’s that common bond among them and they get to talk about those experiences,” VanEtten said.

And of course it’s also a friendly competition with a one department winning the overall games and other departments being named winners in individual events.

However, Szabelski said winning wasn’t what made the day special.

“Anything can happen, but that doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I like just being here with the guys.”

Pete Szabelski, a Cincinnatus firefighter, said the Cincinnatus Fire Department has participated in the games for five years and the games have always helped to boost morale.

“It’s just a blast,” he said. “The whole group looks forward to it.”

He was excited to see the team move on to the second round of the tubing event this year after one of the team members fell off the tubes last year, disqualifying them.

Members of the Baldwinsville Fire Department were pumped for the competition. Team members said they had strategies in place so they could win, but wouldn’t disclose what they were.

“It’s like the Bush’s Baked Beans commercial,” said Shane Olney, team captain. “The dog never spills the beans.”

The team was looking to take home first in tubing after coming in second last year.

However, tubing isn’t the event they were looking forward to most over the weekend — it was broomball.

“A couple of the guys like to play hockey,” said Baldwinsville firefighter Garrett Roziock.

The broomball games at SUNY Cortland bring back good memories for the team, who began walking around like penguins and calling it the “Johnny dance,” after their co-worker Johnny Sebastian, who can’t walk well on the ice.

It’s all in good fun, the guys said.

“It’s just such a great event for us to get out on the ice, watch each other play,” said Nick Delia, a Baldwinsville firefighter. “We have a good time just laughing as the guys fall or look like penguins while walking.”

The Marathon fire department’s team wasn’t too worried about winning a trophy, said Capt. Aric Ryan. Rather, the guys were enjoying a day away from the job.

“It takes away from a lot of the seriousness that comes with the job,” he said. “You get to get out for a while, relax and have fun for a day.”