MANNING - What do you get when you mix dozens of firefighters from different stations, counties or even states and a whopping, big barbecue grill? You get healthy servings of mouthwatering, smoky, Southern barbecue.
The region of the state or states where the barbecue originates will dictate whether the barbecue will be tomato, vinegar or mustard based, and firefighters will tell you it's not all in the sauce. Preparation and how the finished meat looks play a major role in the finished product.
On Nov. 17 at Sumter County Fairgrounds, firefighters from the state and outside its boundaries will gather to honor one of their own, Tom Garrity, a longtime firefighter who died in 2012. The first five challenges were held at a business Garrity founded, G&G Metal Fabrications Inc. and Fire Equipment Services. In 2012, the challenge's name was changed to the Tom Garrity Firefighters' BBQ Challenge.
"He truly cared about his community," said Clarendon County Fire Department Battalion Chief Robert Pegram. "I was introduced to Tom by (the late) Mutt Bozard before I became a firefighter. It was Mutt who talked me into becoming a firefighter. I really miss those folks. It's important to carry on their work."
In 2016, the challenge introduced the Explorers' Jr. Firefighters Skills Challenge, during which teams of young firefighters test their skills against other teams, Pegram said. This year, in honor of Garrity, the Explorers' Jr. Firefighters' Skills Challenge has been renamed the Tom Garrity 701 Explorers' Challenge.
"That was Tom's call number," Pegram said. "He worked out of (Sumter's) Wedgefield Station. There will be seven tasks in the challenge. It will be a timed team competition. This is just another way to honor Tom and the contributions he made to his communities and the youth in those communities. To help firefighters, that's what he would want to do."
Along with honoring Garrity, the challenge also raises money for the American Red Cross Sandhills Chapter that is located in Sumter and serves surrounding counties.
"The Red Cross has suffered over the last couple of years," Pegram said. "Their disaster relief efforts are unsurpassed. They come to the fire scene sometimes before we've even cleared up. They take care of needs in short order. It's heart-warming to see people in need get the care they need so quickly. Anything I can do to help raise funds for the Red Cross is good."
According to Nancy Cataldo, executive director with the American Red Cross, Sandhills Chapter, the American Red Cross responds to a house fire in South Carolina every four hours.
"In the past 12 months, approximately 7,100 people were assisted with disaster," Cataldo said. "More than 92,688 pints of blood were collected."
In addition, the Red Cross helped 9,010 military families, and more than 25,000 smoke detectors were installed, she said.
"On average, 91 cents of every dollar goes directly to the programs and services," Cataldo added. "Almost every second of every day, someone is helped by the American Red Cross."
The challenge covers two days. On Nov. 17, the firefighters compete in the Anything Butt Competition. Tickets for the event will be sold at the door. Gates open from 6-9 p.m. You don't have to have a ticket to walk around, but if you want to sample the barbecue you will need a ticket.
On Saturday, it's time for the real competition that is sanctioned by the Southern Barbeque Network, which allows competitors to acquire points toward the SBN competition. Firefighters will compete against each other for the Firefighter Pit Master and the People's Choice Award. Gates will open about 9 a.m. and close about 2 p.m. Tickets for the Firefighters' BBQ Challenge will cost $10 with children ages 10 and under allowed in free. Tickets will allow attendees to sample barbecue while supplies last. Anyone with a ticket will be able to taste the various barbecues and then vote for People's Choice. In 2016, Garrity's station, Wedgefield Station 7, took home that award.
Pegram said Clarendon County will have at least two teams, maybe three, in this year's challenge.
"We'll have Redline BBQ, which is my team," Pegram said. "It's sponsored by the Bruner Agency in Summerton. The Bank of Clarendon is sponsoring Ham Right BBQ and maybe another team. We also look forward to this competition. We have a lot of fun, and it's for a great cause."
A new addition this year is an open category for anyone competing separately under the SBN. Those teams will cook either a whole hog or Boston butts.
Sandwiches, drinks and barbecue by the pound will be available until 2 p.m.; however, if you want to make certain that you'll have barbecue for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you may want to pre-order a Boston butt for $30. For pre-orders, call Dutch Holland at (910) 973-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call the American Red Cross at (803) 775-2563.
To enter the Firefighters' Master Skills Competition or the Fire Apparatus Show, call Pegram at (803) 460-4877 or email@example.com.
For applications or entry rules, log onto www.sbbgn.com/firefighters-bbq-challenge.html.