PLYMOUTH — The Bremen Firemen’s Festival has been a traditional event in the area since its inception in 1950 that is anticipated by people of all ages.
Firefighters and other volunteers from the community work to ensure that the thousands of annual attendees have much to choose from: Food, music, games, rides, a parade, a waterball competition, fireworks, and more.
Eric Thornton, firefighter since 1998 and Safety and Training Officer for the last 10 years said of all the events, the parade which leads in the five-day event, and then the fireworks show held the last night of the festival, far outweigh the many daily offerings when it comes to attendance.
“Parade night there are about 7,500 that watch and then go to the festival,” he estimated. “We have right around 100 entries. Last year there were about 200 and it lasted almost an hour-and-a-half.” He said locals scope out a favorite place to watch from and claim it with their blankets and chairs, sometimes a day in advance.
The route begins at the corner of Indiana and Plymouth streets where the procession travels east on Plymouth to East Street, then south, and ends at Sunnyside Park. During the parade entries can compete for prizes in band, float, clowns, marching unit, fire truck and other vehicle categories.
Winners are awarded from the grandstand at Center and Plymouth streets as they pass by. Bands are awarded about a half-hour after the procession is complete.
“We have people (as entries) coming from South Bend, Mishawaka, Plymouth, Syracuse, Nappanee, and Starke County,” said Thornton. “We give out trophies for the categories and then we have a firemen’s choice award.”
Also, each year approximately 30 to 40 food and craft vendors offer their fares for sale while Luehr’s Ideal Rides brings the real carnival feel with some 10 to 12 rides and eight to 10 game tents. Helicopter rides from Higher grounds will also offer spectators a bird’s-eye view of the entire festival area.
The firemen’s food tent will be serving up favorites left of the girls softball diamond, next to the pole building. Firefighters will offer baked potatoes, their famous steamed corn and pulled barbecue pork, drinks and more.
“This is still a fairly new venture,” Thornton said of the additional fundraiser within a fundraiser. “We set up the committees and most of them (firefighters, and their family members) volunteer; everyone just fills in where they’re needed.” He said the corn, which is a big area favorite, sells about 10 to 12 bushels each year and that number may likely be growing.
Waterball, a firemen favorite event for decades still brings in about 12 teams (of five or six members) from area departments. “Not all are firemen,” Thornton said. “Some are family members or friends but we have people from Michigan, Plymouth, Culver and Starke County. They look forward to it.”
The event takes place south of the pool and lasts about five hours. Winners are awarded in both mens and womens divisions for first and second placings.
There is no entry fee to participate or watch but registration is at 9:30 a.m. with games beginning at 10 a.m.
The annual firemen’s raffle takes place at 8 p.m. the last night of the event, prior to the fireworks. Prizes this year include a $100 Bellman’s BP gas card (for fifth place); an iPad (for fourth); a 2011 TAO 49cc gas scooter from Mint City Motors (for third place); a 5,500-watt generator from KCG Enterprises of Nappanee (for second place) and a freezer full of a half a beef from John’s Butcher Shop (for first place).
With all that in store, the fireworks may seem like an afterthought, but not to those from the area. They know to expect people from all area counties, and from all walks of life, to fill the parking lots and line the streets and country roads in the area to full capacity.
“I believe we’ve done the fireworks from the very beginning,” Thornton said. “Everyone involved has been to a special safety class before they are even allowed to participate.”
He said there are about 15 firemen working behind the scenes during the show, setting off the pyrotechnics or reloading the tubes with shells. Thornton said Terry Britton, firefighter since 1991, has been in charge of managing the selection process for the 350 shells, a full utility trailer of colorful pyrotechnics for the large display, each year.
Thornton estimated that approximately 10,000 people attend the fireworks display alone and the entire firefighter force is on hand in one way or the other. “There are a few that just walk the grounds to make sure everything is working okay and that everyone is behaving,’ he said. “There is quite a crowd.”
“We spread the trucks in several locations during it,” he continued, “so they can get out if they’re needed. We have a few with us (behind the scenes) and an ambulance on hand in case there are any accidents. Luckily no one has gotten seriously injured”
He said as well, area town’s emergency agencies plan to be on hand to assist if needed.
Whether planning, cooking, cleaning, setting up or simply monitoring or standing on-call, the local firefighters do what they can to keep the five-day event running smoothly.
“Everybody’s involved in one way or other,” Thornton said. “We all have different responsibilities but we get it all done together.”
Though the entire weekend is the department’s major fundraiser for the year, it also is a contribution to the community to enjoy a safe, local, inexpensive, family event. For more information call 574-546-3660, email email@example.com  or visit www.BremenFire.org  online.