BILLINGS — Billings firefighters and police officers suited up into different kind of uniform on Saturday to play in the city's first-ever first responder softball game for charity at Dehler Park.
“Not only is it fun for us, but more importantly, it’s good for the community to come out and see us as real people. A lot of the time, we seem kind of unapproachable. When we’re on the job, people tend to stay away from us because of the nature of our business. So it’s a good opportunity for them to come out and see us as part of the community," said Tom Keightley, Billings police officer.
The idea for the game was sparked by Nate West, who wanted to start his new role as public relations sergeant for the Billings Police Department off with a bang. He organized the event and said he hopes it strengthens the relationship between the officers, firefighters and the community.
“When people deal with first responders, especially police and fire, usually it’s the worst day of their life. They are having an emergency, they’re in crisis, they call for our help. I thought, what better way to put something like this on to build the relationship between the police and fire, but also give the public an opportunity to come out and interact with us and just have fun," West said.
Team members from the Billings Mustangs served as umpires for the game.
Along with the competition on the field, the police officers and firefighters competed for the highest amount of money raised for two different charities. The firefighters raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the police officers raised money for the Billings Education Association. In the end, the money was divided equally between the two organizations.
The rivalry both on and off the field was friendly, but intense.
“We work together out in the field and support the community and we’re on a lot of calls together, but we’ve come here today and we shake hands, but we’re going after it to win. Everybody wants to win and we want to be able to beat them and have bragging rights and be able to carry that on year to year," said Levi Newman, Billings firefighter.
The history of the rivalry goes back decades. The two departments used to play a yearly full-contact football game called the pig bowl. That tradition was retired, partly due to injuries the players received in the game, said Cameron Abell, Billings firefighter.
“Ages ago, I want to say in the 70s, maybe the 80s, but it didn’t go on for a while. It had a lot of injuries if you can imagine. Football and competitive people, we kind of just put each other into the ground. This is a great alternative to it. This is the first time we’ve done it. So we went big and we said lets do this in Dehler Park and let’s do it big," Abell said.
For all the camaraderie, rivalry and fun on the field, one team did have to come out on top. It was the police officers who would take home the bragging rights as winners of the inaugural first responder softball game. The final score was 6-4.
The firefighters and police officers all said they hope the annual softball game tradition will continue into the future. So the firefighters will likely get another shot at the title next summer.
Totals for the total amounts raised by the police and firefighters will be calculated later in the week Abell said.
The event also had two sponsors that donated money, disaster restoration company 1-800-BoardUp and Century 21, Abell said.