FOREST CITY | The Iowa Firefighters Association's annual convention is a bit like a family reunion, according to Cathy Seymour.

Seymour, whose husband, Bob, has been on the Martensdale Fire Department for 50 years, said what she likes best about the event is "everything."

"We have so much fun," she said. 

Forest City hosted the convention for the third time this week. The city previously served as the location for the event in 1997 and 2007.

More than 2,000 firefighters from fire departments all over the state, plus their spouses, came to this year's gathering. 

The convention officially kicked off Wednesday, although some participants arrived earlier. The event ends Sunday, with the annual IFA business meeting.

Much of the convention took place at the WIT Rally Grounds.

Firefighters and their spouses competed in waterball, a contest in which a ball is suspended from a cable high in the air.

Two teams use hoses to spray the ball. The goal for each team is to move the ball into the other team's territory and score goals. 

Convention-goers also participated in a bean bag toss and other games. Golf and bowling outings were planned for them.

Socializing is a big draw, several attendees said.

"It's nice to see friends from all over the state," said Sarah Krukow, whose husband, Joe, is on the Osage Fire Department. "It's the one time of year we get to see everyone."

Events on Sept. 9, including firefighter drills by the courthouse and a parade, were open to the public.

"The competition on Saturday is always fun to watch," Krukow said.

The Heritage Park campground, located next to the WIT Rally Grounds, was full of RVs during the convention.  

For firefighters in the region, having the event in Forest City is a bonus because they don't have far to travel.

"It's close this year. It's nice," said Chris Brinkman from the Manly Fire Department. 

One thing he likes about convention is the hospitality tents with a DJ or karaoke that some fire departments host. 

If someone on the department is running for an IFA office, the hospitality tent might feature free drinks and sandwiches, he said. 

Osage Fire Chief Kurt Angell has brought his Dalmatian, Oreo, to the IFA convention every year since 2010. 

In the days of horse-drawn fire carts, Dalmatians were trained to run ahead of the carts to clear a path and guide the horses and firefighters where they needed to go.

At convention Angell and Oreo ride around on golf carts — a popular mode of transportation for attendees — to visit with everyone.

"She has fun," Angell said. "She likes people."

The two of them also participate in parades. 

"I don't have to worry about candy," Angell said. "If kids can pet the dog, they won't even notice if there is candy."

Rich Riebkes of the Wellsburg Fire Department has been to many state conventions.

"It's a getaway," he said, noting it's a chance to meet people from all over the state.

Riebkes and his wife, Susan, were able to visit their daughter and son-in-law, Trista and Adam Helm of rural Woden during their time in Forest City this year. 

One of their grandchildren, three-year-old Reagyn Helm, even helped her grandpa drive a golf cart around the convention grounds. 

Riebkes has been to all three conventions that have taken place in Forest City.

He said what makes the Forest City location special is the great campground facilities.

"You've got everything here," he said.

Outbrain