A tradition continues…

Members of the New Prague Fire Department Precision Drill Team rehearse their steps in preparation for their annual performance Saturday, April 6, at the Park Ballroom. (Chuck Kajer photo)

One of New Prague’s longest-running traditions will continue Saturday, April 6, when the New Prague Fire Department holds its 125th annual Dance and Drill at the Park Ballroom, 300 Lexington Ave. S in New Prague.

The New Prague Fire Department was organized in 1884 and held its first dance four years later, in 1888. Twenty years later, the department’s precision drill team was formed. This year is the 105th anniversary of the drill team. The dance begins at 8 p.m., with the drill team performing at 8:45 p.m. 

The team... 16 of “New Prague’s Finest,” have been practicing for two weeks, making sure they have their steps perfected.

Jeremy Tikalsky is the drillmaster. He joined the department in 1997 and became a member of the drill team several years later. He is in his sixth year as drillmaster, carrying on a tradition started by Ed Vanasek in 1908.

During a rehearsal earlier this week, he worked with team members, instructing them on the proper way to make turns and pacing. Tikalsky served in the military and that experience has helped him as drillmaster. He said only one member of the current team - Andy Tupy - has military experience.

Membership on the team comes with seniority. the most senior members are Mike Ruzicka, Shawn Anderson and Tom Musil, each with 14 years on the team.

“We always look forward to doing this,” Ruzicka said, noting it’s one of the highlights of the year.

Musil said it takes a lot of work. “The hardest part is keeping count. The practices are hard, but it all comes together on Saturday.”

Ruzicka added that it takes a lot of communication. “You’ll see us talking to each other while we’re marching, making sure we know what’s next.”

Fire Department Drill Teams were once common across the nation. New Prague’s team first performed at the State Firemen’s Convention. Over the years, most departments have stopped with the drills.

“I’m not aware of any others around here that still do this,” Tikalsky said. “And I don’t know if there are any left in the state.”

Also part of Saturday’s festivities is recognition of Joe Wagner, who has retired from the department after 22 years of service.

In recognition of the event, New Prague Mayor Chuck Nickolay has issued a proclamation declaring April 6 to be “New Prague Fire Department Dance and Drill Day” in New Prague. He will present the proclamation to Fire Chief Jerry Novak at the dance.

More on the history of the New Prague Fire Department Dance and Drill, including historical photos, can be found on pages 7-9 in this week’s edition of The New Prague Times.