ERATH — Hot. And wet.
That’s how Independence Day kicks off every year in Erath as local fire departments get together to battle for the Old Boot in the town’s annual Fourth of July Fire Department Water Fights.
The competition is stiff, but cordial. This year six teams competed, one each from Erath, LeBlanc and Henry, plus three Delcambre teams: one of traditional firefighters, one from the town’s junior firefighter ranks and one made up of female firefighters from the area.
“We’re here every year,” said Adam “Goat” Broussard, sporting his red, white and blue beard and matching sunglasses. “There’s nothing like it.”
As the competition began Thursday, LeBlanc’s team was coming in as the reigning champion, holding the trophy for the last three years. But the hometown squad was not going to give up easily.
The competition’s rules are simple. Each team is made up of six firefighters. Three of them secure the hose, helping lift it so the two aiming firefighters can adjust the trajectory of the water to hit the aimers for the opposing team. The sixth team member, the caller, gives directions to the aimers so they can put the 70-psi blast of water on the opposing team 75 feet away.
“We’re the only ones doing this in the state,” Erath Fire Chief T.J. LaCoste said. “We do it twice a year, here for the Fourth of July and in Delcambre for the Shrimp Festival.”
Whichever team keeps its water on the opposing team the longest during each two-minute round wins and moves on to another round in the double elimination match. The last two teams standing face a best two-out-of-three final, with each round stretched to three minutes.
As it turned out, LeBlanc and Erath were the finalists. It was obvious that the crowd was hoping for the Erath team to win out.
“Right! Right!” onlookers called out, trying to help the caller’s commands be heard over the roar of the water. “Up! Up! Freeze! Hold it!”
Even with the assist from the cheap seats, the Erath squad lost the first round to LeBlanc. But the second round of the final went to Erath, setting up a third round.
As the round ended, neighbors were high-fiving and claiming victory until the judges’ decision could be heard. It was a tie.
“Tie? No way!” the murmur started. LaCoste calmed the crowd.
“We have four judges,” he said. “Three of them said it was a tie, and the fourth said it was close but he would give it to LeBlanc. I’ll go with the tie.”
The teams took their positions again and faced off for a tie breaker. This time it was clear the Erath team clinched it. For the first time since 2015, LeBlanc left the competition empty handed.
“It was a good competition,” said Travis Lange, the caller for the LeBlanc squad. “It’s all about being competitive and having a good time, and they did a good job.”
As the firefighters shook hands and hugged, children made their way into the street, playing in the water and having their own little water fights, flinging water at each other from their plastic water bottles. The water fights might have been over, but there was still a full day of barbecue, music and fireworks to go.