OURAY – “My biggest worry is a hypothermia incident. That water is freezing.”
This from the Chief of the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department, Adam Kunz, who competed in the city’s infamous Fourth of July water fights back in the 1990s as a junior. Now, as Chief, he is in charge of organizing the ever-expanding menu of fun at Ouray’s Independence Day celebrations.
The water fights always provide a spectacle, whether you stand close enough to get soaked, or view them from a more arid vantage point overlooking Main Street. In a ritual that goes at least as far back as 1887 to mining’s heyday, teams of two, suited up like Iron Men – or, more likely, motocross warriors – do battle for up to 45 minutes. Their weapons: the high-power streams from the nozzles of fire hoses. At the start signal, teams jockey for position on the high side of Main Street at the 6th Avenue intersection. Then they try to knock each other’s blocks off.
The fights themselves are serious business: “Seniors” (age 21 and up) fight with a 2½-inch diameter hose that produces 155 pounds per square inch of pressure. The other three categories use a 1¾-inch hose that generates 120 psi. Either pressure can produce full-body bruises. “We require protective gear,” Kunz said. “You must have a helmet with a wraparound face shield of at least quarter-inch Plexiglas. And you have to wear protective clothing, which we don’t specify, but it could be anything from firefighter gear to motocross pads with a wetsuit underneath and a firefighter jacket on top of that.
We should have all four fights this year,” he added. It doesn’t always happen; one team can become dominant over time, and the result is that nobody wants to challenge. Too much pain. The winners literally blow their opponents off their feet, or force them into defenseless retreat. More often, fighters struggle to hold steady in a grueling stalemate, torrents colliding mid-air. One way to victory is to get enough water under the visor of your opponents, so you can advance without them seeing you. Four-time champion Nancy Nixon’s biggest fear was simple: “Drowning inside your helmet.” Long fights, Kunz recalled, can leave contestants dangerously numb in mind as well as body. “I couldn’t stop shaking,” he said.
For that reason, fights are now limited to 30 minutes for the women’s, co-ed, and junior men’s categories, and 45 minutes for senior men. Most fights don’t last the full round, Kunz, said, but if teams make it to the time limit, a panel of four judges, all of them former firefighters, decides the winners.
The time maximum also serves to preserve some water in the town’s water tank, should there be, say, a fire that needs putting out. “A 45-minute fight uses a lot of water,” Kunz said. “It is an issue.”
Defending champions Jude Martinez and Chris Scott will be back this year, Kunz said. “They’ve won, I think, five years in a row now, three years as juniors, and two as seniors.” The co-ed team of Eva Duce and Kyle Schoenebaum will also return to defend their 2010 title.
The Fire Department flier for the day’s events comes with a caution: “WARNING: During these events you will get WET.” Kunz believes most people come to the fights hoping to get wet. Even so, “We get a lot of complaints from people saying their cameras were ruined. Not from the fights, but from the parade. This year, we’re encouraging people on floats not to bring squirt guns, (but) squirt guns are not against the law. Throwing a water balloon into a crowd – that is against the law. People sitting in their lawn chairs on the sidewalk have been getting soaked.” He added hopefully, “We’re going to try to keep it dry.”
Ouray Fourth of July Schedule of Events
Firemen’s Dance, 8 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center (320 6th Avenue)
7 a.m.: Ouray Mountain Rescue Breakfast at the Community Center
8 a.m.: Ourayce 10K starts outside City Hall (6th Avenue). Race day registration 7-7:45 a.m.. Pre-register at Raceit.com. Walkers are welcome. All proceeds go to benefit KURA- FM Radio 98.9. Questions, call John Nixon at 325-4496.
9 a.m.: Elks Rummage Sale, Ouray Elks Lodge
10 a.m.: Fourth of July Parade on Main Street. Parade participant info:
-There is no fee or application to participate in the parade this year.
- Entries should start lining up for the parade at the corner of 4th Street and 4th Avenue.
- The Fire Department is asking parade participants who want to hand out candy to walk alongside their parade entry and give out candy to children.
- It is recommended that water not be sprayed from the floats.
10:30 a.m. (following Parade): Kids Games at Felin Park
2 p.m.: Water Fights at the Corner of Main Street and 6th Avenue
5 p.m.: Historic Lodge Tours, Ouray Elks Lodge
6 p.m.: Karaoke, Ouray Elks Lodge
7 p.m.: Line Up for Flare Parade, one mile south of Ouray on Hwy 550
Dark: Fireworks and Flare Parade
WARNING: During these events you will get WET. Prepare yourself for the Parade and Water Fights. Please do not let children go into the street during the Parade. On behalf of the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department, please have a happy and safe Fourth of July.