Auburn firefighters take to slopes, win for charity

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NEWRY — Jay firefighter Griffin Couture is by no means upset that the Auburn Fire Department edged out 18 other teams from around New England to take first place in the 20th Annual Firefighter’s Race at Sunday River this past weekend. In fact, he and close friend Dan Masselli, an Auburn firefighter and member of the winning team, ribbed one another for weeks about the annual charity event.

“That’s OK. Auburn can enjoy their year of fame and we’ll take the crown back next year,” Couture joked, pointing out how the guys from Jay took home the gold last year — in just their second year of competing — and promising to reclaim their glory next March.

Seems to be a bit of friendly competition brewing between the big city and the country boys. Jay took the backseat to Auburn this year — but not by much — with a run time of 28.14 seconds, compared to Auburn’s winning time of 27.85 seconds. Bethel came in a very close third with a time of 28.27.

And as 90 firefighters, their families and supporters bid for bragging rights — proceeds from the race, as well as the 20th Annual Eat the Heat Chili Cook Off and the 25th Annual Ski-A-Thon, raised more than $300,000 for Maine Handicapped Skiing. This amount represents the third largest amount ever raised during this annual weekend for the nonprofit organization, according to a news release issued by the ski resort.

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Maine Handicapped Skiing stresses the importance of recreational sports as integral to a well-rounded life for every person regardless of their physical abilities. The organization is the largest year-round adaptive recreation program in the state of Maine for adults and children with physical disabilities.

More than 390 volunteers assist athletes in appreciating the joys and challenges of sports participation. Maine Handicapped Skiing provides more than 3,700 lessons in a variety of winter and summer sports free of charge.

“We go to support the cause and have a good time. Anything beyond that is bonus,” Masselli said. “We do charity events throughout the year, and this is one of them.”

The annual firefighter race is one of the organization’s most popular venues. Firefighters in full gear race down a giant slalom course on the Tempest trail toting 50 feet of fire hose. Teams were composed of skiers, snowboarders and snowbladers.

Couture and Masselli both contend that their teams did no special training or dieting in preparation for the competition, although Couture quipped that most of the guys on his team were not only young, but lifelong skiers. He added that many teams were surprised by the guys from Jay when they won the big prize last year in just their second year of participating.

Masselli, on the other hand, said that the key to Auburn’s success was that team members were there to have fun while raising money for a great cause — one of several supported each year by Auburn’s International Association of Firefighters Local 797.

Firefighters from Lewiston took fourth place. Other Maine teams included: Gorham, sixth place; Falmouth, seventh place; Rumford, eighth place; Poland, 10th place; Newry, 11th place; Denmark, 12th place and Cumberland in 13th place. Teams from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts also placed in the competition, according to the release.

“I’ve skied my whole life, and I think everyone should have that opportunity,” Couture said.

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