Eight men sat along a wooden table. In front of them, 96 hot dogs waited. Behind them, a golden trophy and a belt fit for a champion motivated them. They were eating to win.

At the first annual Sausages for Safety, two teams of firefighters were not only eating to win, but also for a cause. The hot dog eating contest, hosted by Mayflower Cellars and First Magnitude Brewing Company on Saturday, was organized to raise money for the upkeep of Kiwanis Gainesville Fire Rescue Safety City, a free facility for children to learn about safety.

The event took place from 2 to 6 p.m. at First Magnitude Brewing Company on Southeast Veitch Street. Safety City did free bicycle helmet fittings for children and worked with the Gainesville Fire Explorers to put together an obstacle course called “The Kiddie Combat Challenge.”

Red Cross had a table where kids could draw on a pillow case with markers and then fill it with supplies like tissues, Band-Aids and flashlights. Rosemary Jones, the Red Cross representative, said the kit is meant for children to start thinking about disaster preparation.

For three-year old Max, the firetruck was her favorite part. Gainesville Fire Rescue brought the firetruck, and kids had the opportunity to sit in the truck and have their pictures taken.

“I think it’s amazing,” Emi Melker, Max’s mother, said. “I came to visit with friends. I was worried there wouldn’t be enough for Max to do while we hung out, but she loved it. It’s educational while having fun.”

Just past 5 p.m., almost 50 people gathered inside the venue to see the main event: a hot dog eating contest between Gainesville Fire Rescue and Marion County Fire Rescue.

Each team had four members, and each member had a plate stacked with 12 hot dogs in front of them. They had five minutes on the clock. The goal was to eat as many hot dogs — buns included — as possible.

Contestants quickly learned to soak the buns in glasses of water, otherwise the bread would dry out their mouths and slow them down. Hot dogs disappeared, consumed quickly in an attempt to win the trophy, decorated with a hot dog on top, of course.

As the piles dwindled, volunteers brought out plates with six more hot dogs. Competitors shook their heads, threw their hands up in the air, groaned and continued eating. At 10 seconds left, the crowd cheered them on.

Jon Pilgrim, owner of Mayflower Cellars, announced the winners.

GFR’s team, named “Just Try and Ketchup,” won with 25 hot dogs eaten. MCFR’s team, “Hot Dog Furies,” ate 18 hot dogs.

Lt. Sean Withers from GFR, after eating eight hot dogs, received the grand champion belt for eating the most.

“I wanted to clear my plate,” Withers said. “I wanted to win, so I just kept shoveling them in. To tell you the truth, I’m a little disappointed with eight.”
Withers does plan to defend his title next year and beat his record of eight hot dogs.

Safety City was created by GFR and the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville and opened in 2002. The two-acre facility is located at 1025 NE 13th St.

Safety City requires no entrance fee and includes a pavilion, a fire station building, working crosswalks, streetlights and more. Children, usually brought on field trips, can learn about topics such as fire safety, bike and pedestrian safety, electrical safety and how to call 911.

“If we go out and we just talk to kids, they might remember a small percentage of what we say,” Krista Ott, coordinator for Safety City, said. “If we involve them a little bit, they’ll remember a little bit more, but we know if we get them hands-on doing what we’re doing, they’ll remember it much greater.”

Pilgrim hopes to build on this year’s momentum and have “Sausages for Safety” grow and include more organizations. He and his wife, Kerry Pilgrim, co-owner of Mayflower Cellars, first thought of the event when their business opened two years ago.

“Mayflower Cellars made its name with house-made sausages,” Jon Pilgrim said. “It took one summer to know that we should do a hot dog eating contest. I feel like any business that cares about the community should help local charities.”

Follow Jessica Curbelo on Twitter @jesscurbelo and contact her at [email protected].