The History of EMFD Meadowlarks Racing Team
Formed in the early 1930s, and soon becoming a huge part of the East Meadow Fire Department’s history, were the Meadowlarks Racing Team.
In the early days of our E.M.F.D.’s racing team they were known as the “Suicide Squad”. In the years that followed, the teams name was changed to the Meadowlarks for a more appropriate flavor of the earlier footprint of our community.
A “Tournament” or “Drill Team Competition” as it was called, was a series of motorized and running event race competitions known only to the New York State Fire Service, where many fire departments would demonstrate their athletic abilities to compete in track racing events, all based on firefighting evolutions.
The “Sport” as it may seem, held a few benefits for the Long Island volunteer fire service in the form of intense competition that retained volunteers, while promoting the closeness of the different townships affording great opportunity for Fire Chiefs and other fire service professionals to become more familiar with one another. As the decades passed, this closeness became more and more important as more towns were developing, population was greatly increasing, and the need to establish mutual aid agreements for major fire and EMS incidents became a top fire service priority.
In the early days, fire departments actually used older model fire trucks to race down a track with firefighters aboard equipped with hoses or ladders depending on the particular event.
Firefighters experienced a camaraderie second to none as they competed for the best times winning trophies in each race category.
It can be said that, many of the most active, spirited, volunteer firefighters were the best firefighters in town, and generally the most active.
As the decades passed, huge stands for seating became the norm, with more and more patrons attending the “tournament” creating an excitement in the fire service second only to extinguishing a blaze.
Fast forward to the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90s, the most notable changes came in the form of the “B” rig (Souped up pickups trucks) and “C” rig (A more modified version of a drag race car), each boasting their own custom fabrication to add a hose bed, ladder rack, low rear tailboard, pump (B Rigs), with lettering and a logo of the team.
It was these vehicles with their newer motorized technology that began replacing the last of the older fire trucks for that more souped- up, faster roadsters that would change the clocked times of events, as racing trucks from both categories could move down the track at faster speeds.
Within this era, additional safety precautions were addressed, including the wearing of protective head gear, and barricade protection around, and at the end of track.
Along the way, East Meadow had several models of B and C Rigs,(See Photos) with the most notable being a Corvette, custom fabricated to meet the needs of this unique firefighter racing.
Judged by New York State Fire Service Officials, who followed strict regulations on hose types, lengths of braking and safety zones, a rule book, and maximum time limits of any event, they too, saw innovations in technology such as the laser starting lines and electronic clock stoppage equipment making the tournaments even more robust in competition.
The competition was so intense both in the stands, and at the camp of each team along the sidelines. It was not uncommon to see racing team members, in their Meadowlark colors of burgundy jerseys and white pants with a stop watch of their own, as they timed the runs of their competitors.
Aside from the announcement of the winners at the end of the day where the top teams would take a victory ride down the track after a tournament, trophies high in hand, such moments could only be equaled by the announcement of “General Judges to the Arch” after a team’s run. Back in the day, a roar from the capacity crowd would follow, and officials would meet at the foot of the track to verify a new New York State record had just been witnessed by all.
Week after week the Meadowlarks would practice on Franklin Avenue in East Meadow alongside the Water District, or at the correctional center property, or in Eisenhower Park, all with the hopes of perfecting their times for the different races.
Back in these days the Meadowlarks would come home nearly each weekend with a few trophies be it 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th place in any given event.
For years they were keepers of the times to beat with one of the best 3 Man Ladder teams, Efficiency, Motor Pump, and the Bucket Brigade events, in some cases holding the New York State record for years. (Click on the Event Description to learn all about each event).
The East Meadow Fire Department Meadowlarks were a highly respected motorized racing team. Proudly they were the New York State Champions in the early years of 1946 and 1958. Dates etched in the minds of those East Meadow volunteers who served for decades on end back in the day, and equally respected by those racing team members of today.
In 1976, A strong team effort won the Meadowlarks the Nassau County Point Champs title having the most points of all Nassau County teams for the entire year.
The team to beat in the 1970s into the 80s, the Meadowlarks would follow up 1976 with consecutive “Old Fashioned” Tournament Point Champs in 1978, 1979, and 1980. It was during this time the Meadowlarks would win the 6th Battalion Tournament 8 years in a row.
In 1982, the Meadowlarks proudly became the Nassau County Total Point Champs for the year, highlighted by breaking the New York State Record in the “Efficiency” event with a time of 8.61 seconds.
In 1977 more exposure was given to this firefighter’s competition when ABC’s Wide World of Sports presented New York’s bravest racing down the track on prime time television. In this airing, the East Meadow Meadowlarks were shown on the one and only Sunday Sports show in the early years before the 7 day a week sports channels were formed.
In 1988, the motorized Meadowlarks racing team (Drill Team) came to an end as the racing vehicles were removed from service.
Although motorized racing became a moment in time from our rich EMFD history, it will not soon be forgotten for the excitement all our Meadowlarks drill team members gave us in the true spirit of firefighter skills competitions.
Today, while dozens of motorized FD racing teams continue to compete most weekends in the spring and summer, the Meadowlarks remain active in representing our department in participating in the annual 6th Battalion Old Fashioned tournament where a pull cart is used in place of a motorized vehicle just as was once the story at real fires in the early days.
Strongest in the County of Suffolk, some fire departments have added Junior Racing Teams where the kids in their Junior Fire Companies compete in the running events of the old Fashion tournaments. No doubt a strong area of recruitment as the kids grow into the volunteer fire service at a young age, learning leadership, respect, teamwork, camaraderie, water hydraulics, and fire equipment.
We invite you to look over our photo gallery and video tributes to the members of the Meadowlark’s Racing Team. A proud component of your East Meadow Fire Department’s past.
Also in this section you will find a list and description of each racing event.
Want to see more about the unique exciting sport? Go to NY Drill Teams and see all the photos, videos, upcoming schedules, tournament results, for all of New York State.