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KFD in Competition

When tradition meets rivalry, the resulting conflict is often competition; the Lake County Fire Convention was an annual fight for bragging rights. Traveling around Division 4 (Lake County), the annual convention was hosted by a different department every year as the local newspaper, the News-Sun, covered the event. Fire crews from neighboring departments, volunteer and paid, would compete in various firefighting activities.

The Convention crews were the elite members of every department, the best of the best, competing for bragging rights on behalf of the department. Families and friends supported their crew, the weekend full of barbecues and parties as children of department members wore T-shirts in support.

The event was family oriented, yet competition remained fierce. Crews would train throughout the year attempting to perfect the various challenges; experience would collide head on with young eager firefighters. Veterans were their coaches and drill instructors, and the young firemen, the competitors. Winning became a science. Videotaping their performance, the crews would review the tape like a professional team for a big game, searching for the slightest edge on the competition and the slimmest errors to shave seconds off their time.

Bragging rights were won, pride was broken and glory achieved, as the conventions provided an outlet for the mounting tensions between volunteer and career departments. Having nothing to lose and a lot to gain, Knollwood proved to be its stereotypical self during these annual conventions. Aggressive and determined, the department achieved an elitist status among Division 4 departments as a group of rough young men whose aggressive firefighting style bordered on the edge of risky.

The event was the Super Bowl of the department. Their dedication and new abilities gained throughout the year would be judged against neighboring fire departments competing in such activities as tug of war, hose roll contests, and the five- and three-man hook-ups. The games involved skill and patience as an engine company would arrive at a water source, establish a water supply, and pull hose to extinguish an imaginary fire, all while under the clock and in full turnout gear.

Among the most popular contests were the water fights. In a tournament-style duel, the departments of Division 4 would battle one another to be crowned the water fight champions for the year. Two styles of this competition were held; the first was with a smaller attack line battling a suspended mini-keg on a zip line. Two members from each department fought to push the keg past the opposing department. The second and more dangerous style of water fights were carried out on the ground between two guard rails. Battling a full-sized keg with a large attack line, a crew of five would shoot the keg toward the opposing department, attempting to send the full-sized keg past the opposite crew. The keg turned projectile was a necessary and real danger young fireman faced in an effort to bring honor and pride to their department.

Hailed as heroes, victorious firefighters were of celebrity status on these small volunteer departments. Trophies brought home from the Convention were more than knickknacks on a dusty shelf; they represented a superiority over their neighboring departments, bragging rights until next year, and an upcoming battle to earn, regain, or retain their rule as champions.

Being victorious throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Knollwood became known for its performances at the conventions, its biggest rival being the Fox Lake Fire Department. Competing against each other, the two departments hold the most victories earned at the annual Conventions. Ended in the 1980s due to growing dangers and issues with insurance, the convention was an outlet that enabled departments of all backgrounds, volunteer and career, to compete for friendly bragging rights and pride.

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