On any other weekend, the sudden arrival of thousands of fire personnel in Wildwood would signal disaster. But this weekend, it means prosperity.
More than 20,000 fire personnel will converge on the Wildwoods Convention Center today and Saturday for the annual New Jersey Firemen's Convention, giving the area's stores, hotels and restaurants a much-needed boost for the post-Labor Day shoulder season.
Tony Bucci, co-owner of the Aquarius Motor Inn in Wildwood, said the Firemen's Convention and the Roar to the Shore Bike Rally, which was held Sept. 5-8, allow him to fill the motel and the adjoining Sea Mist Apartments at a time when many of its rooms would otherwise be empty.
"It's big, it's big for the whole area here, because this time of year, there's nothing," Bucci said.
The Firemen's Convention was first held in Atlantic City but was moved to the Wildwoods Convention Center in 1975. It is one of the longest-running annual events held at the center, said Ben Rose, director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.
The first day of the convention, known as "Firemen's Friday," is one of the busiest business days in Wildwood, whether in season or off. Russell Coombs, manager of the Oceanic Bar, said the day shift brings in more than double the business of even the busiest summer night.
"It's kind of wild," Coombs said. "At 10 in the morning we'll be three deep here."
During the convention, representatives from fire departments statewide will cast votes on new officers and resolutions, and will discuss how recently passed legislation affects their duties as firefighters.
The event also gives individual departments a chance to show off to the public and their fellow firefighters through daily equipment and apparatus displays outside the Convention Center starting at 8 a.m. and the two-mile Fire Convention Parade, which will start at 1 p.m. at Crocus Avenue and head north on New Jersey Avenue to Eighth Avenue. The parade will last about 4½ hours.
That the Firemen's Convention draws a guaranteed crowd each year means it's a big boost for Wildwood businesses, many of which suffered soft seasons this year, a situation Bucci attributes to colder-than-average temperatures early in the season and some hesitation to book trips to the shore in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Being able to count on the Firemen's Convention and other shoulder season events is a relief, he said.
"These things all add up," Bucci said. "Every bit counts, especially if you have a slow season."
The Firemen's Convention is one of several events held in the Wildwoods after Labor Day each year that allow businesses to remain open into the fall. Next weekend, the combined draws of the Irish Fall Festival, the Boardwalk Classic Car Show and the Wildwood Crest Seafarers Celebration, will bring in an additional 150,000 people, Rose said.
For additional information and a full list of upcoming events in the Wildwoods, visit wildwoodsnj.com or call 800-922-9732.
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: The New Jersey Firemen's Convention Equipment Displays and Parade
When: Equipment displays 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. Parade 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Equipment displays outside Wildwoods Convention Center, 4501 Boardwalk. Parade, Crocus and New Jersey avenues.
How much: Free
More info: njfireexpo.com