Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The 54th annual Columbia Fireman's Muster will take place Friday and Saturday in Columbia State Historic Park.

Volunteer fire crews from around the Western United States will take part in the competition, presented by Columbia Volunteer Fire Department Engine Co. No. 1.

Friday is hospitality night and the equipment parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. Other Saturday events will include hose cart races, bucket brigade, skills competition, hand pumper contests and children's events.

Admission is free.

A "Firefighter's Muster" is described as a firefighter's Antique Olympics, in which firefighting equipment and techniques are used in competition for trophies and championships.

"Muster," as defined in the dictionary, means "gathering" or "to bring together." These gatherings have been taking place since the 1800s when New England fire departments mustered to compete and show off their various skills and ornate fire apparatus.

"It was an honor and point of pride to have the swiftest horses, the quickest firefighters and hose carts, and the strongest pumpers," said Capt. Ryan Mileur of the Columbia Fire Protection District. "Firefighter musters in California probably date back to the Gold Rush days of the 49ers when the fire companies of the diggin's would gather to have something to do during holiday celebrations and when things were dull at the mines."

In the 1960s, the musters found new life at the historic Mother Lode mining camp at Columbia and the event has been growing ever since. In 1974, Capt. Ron Rice of the Benecia Volunteer Fire Department called a meeting of interested fire departments to form the California Fireman's Muster Association, which sets rules and regulations for sanctioned musters and determines a state champion at the end of each muster season.

"Columbia Fire Department along with Engine Co. No. 1 holds the first fire muster of the year," Mileur said. "This is a free event and very family and community oriented."

Friday is hospitality night, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Columbia Fire House at 11328 Jackson St. with food, live music and silent auction.

Saturday's events start with a parade along the historic Main Street of Columbia with competitive events to follow.

The sale of smoked tri-tip sandwiches helps raise funds for the purchase of life safety equipment.

Here's the Saturday schedule:

9 a.m. - Registration.

10 a.m. - Antique Equipment Promenade.

11 a.m. - Children's Events.

Noon - Bucket Brigade.

1 p.m. - Hand Pumpers.

2 p.m. - Hose Cart Race.

3 p.m. - Motorized Hose Wagon Competition.

4 p.m. - Motorized Pumpers Competition.

5 p.m. - Firefighter Shootout.

6 p.m. - Tri-Tip Dinner.

For more information, call Mileur at 532-3772.