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Firefighters hoping for good soaking at Midvale festival

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In a scorching summer like this one, you'd think firefighters would jump on a day off. Instead, a flock of Salt Lake Valley firefighters are spending today practicing, well, more like playing, with their heavy equipment.

"We're going to have water fights," said Midvale Fire Marshal Russ Groves. His crew will begin the games at 2 p.m. in Midvale City Park during the city's Harvest Days celebration. This is clean fun with old-fashioned gear: Bucket brigade teams will race, "make-and-break" crews will show how fast they can zap a hot spot with hoses and four-member squads will engage in a reverse tug-of-war — more like a drench-of-war — with a suspended barrel.

"You have the barrel up on a cable, and each team tries to push it to the other side with waterlines," said Groves. He admitted that this feat doesn't resemble any real firefighting situation, except that it's hard for anybody to see anything. "There's a lot of steam, a lot of water. You're just trying to hit the target." The hoses firefighters use to pelt the barrel and the opposing team shoot from 250 to 1,000 gallons per minute.

"There will be no fires on Saturday" in the park, declared Groves. With 50 or 60 firemen and women marshaling enormous amounts of water, Midvale should be one of the better-protected cities along the Wasatch Front. Groves said that along with the barrage of wildland fires that have plagued the West this summer, structure fires inside city limits have been worse than usual.

"I'd say it's been up 50 to 75 percent, just because things are so dry. You'll have structure fires that start on patios, some from fireworks, some from barbecues or even cigarettes," he said.

Water fights in the park are fun to watch, Groves said, but more important, they bring fire crews together. Under their mutual aid agreement, local, state and federal fire agencies work in tandem, with city departments sending help to wildland crews and to other cities whenever it's needed. The more all hands practice together, the better, said Groves.

Midvale's fire department has expanded in recent years, since the city doubled in size thanks to annexation of about three square miles in 1997. Volunteers drove the fire engines until the early 1990s, and then the city hired part-time firefighters, according to chief Stephen Higgs. Now Midvale has 53 full- and part-time crew members at its two stations, and the department will hire 18 more firefighters this year.

Midvale's Harvest Days began as a late-summer gathering of farmers, who brought their crops to town for an open-air market. Dances and dinners were part of the celebration of a good growing season. Today, Midvale's artists, restaurateurs, musicians and tradesmen and women still come together to see the fruits of each other's labor. They start with a parade down Center Street at 10 a.m. today, and then a food, art and music fair goes from noon to 9 p.m. in Midvale City Park.

At the end of the day, Groves and the Midvale Fire Department will have one more flammable situation to supervise: the city's annual fireworks display, at 10 p.m. at Midvale Middle School, 7852 S. Pioneer St.

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com