Story and photos by Glynnis Jones Last Saturday’s grey skies couldn’t stop the first Rib-Eating Contest held at Franklin Sussex Auto Mall. Ten volunteer firefighters from around the area made their way to Sussex to vie for the top prize of $500 for their firehouse by being the fastest feast-er. General Manager of the auto mall, Bill Snouffer, put up the money and the space for firefighters to take part in the lip smacking food frenzy. Eric Figueroa, owner and chef of The Double S Diner, donated and prepared 23 racks of ribs that were smoked on the premises of the Franklin Sussex Auto Mall earlier that morning. The diner has been serving the area since 1955 and been operated by Figueroa for the last six years. The challenge was that the winner had to finish two full racks of ribs, completely stripping the meat off the bone, faster than anybody else. Hunter Space from the Beemerville Fire Department finished first in the challenge of Man vs. Beast. Richard Smith, Assistant Engineer for Wantage Township Company 1 said the squad backed Space when he volunteered for the challenge with confidence that he could win. “He obviously proved that he could do it and we are glad that he represented us well.” Space, a fourth generation firefighter, gobbled down two racks of ribs in four minutes and 50 seconds. The $500 prize will go towards turn out gear for the department. According to Smith, the cost for a firefighter’s helmet, boots, and coat can cost upwards of $3,500. Bill Blessing found out days before the contest that he would be to go-to guy for Sparta. Fellow firefighter Roy Trumper declined the nomination and volunteered Blessing for the spot. With little time to prepare, Blessing kept an even, calm pace and earned his department $100 for finishing. Howard Freeman, executive producer of Rock, Ribs, and Ridges Festival at Hidden Valley in June, organized Saturday’s event and served as emcee. Aside from the culinary competition, the afternoon included free food for visitors, raffle prizes, and live music. Bill Snouffer made a surprise announcement at the end of the competition that the other nine contestants would also be awarded with $100 each for their fire department. All the contestants also received free stains.