Firefighters are kind of like modern-day knights in shining armor, except instead of wearing shining armor and chainmail, they wear protective bunker gear, bright yellow hazmat suits, and shiny silver fire proximity suits. And when they aren’t fighting fires and rescuing people, they are competitively pretending to fight fires and rescue people, in which case they are more like modern-day gladiators – only they aren’t naked.
The firefighter coliseum is the Fighter Combat Challenge course. The Challenge is a 5-event physical fitness speed-challenge in which firefighters across the world participate. It is a competition based on what firefighters do daily in their jobs. The order of the events include a stair-climb with a high-rise pack, hose hoist, forcible entry, hose advance, and a victim rescue. Firefighters compete to complete the challenge in the fastest time. Its purpose is to promote physical fitness, which includes both strength and endurance, an essential element in structural firefighting. A structural fire involves the all of the structural components of various types of commercial and residential buildings, as opposed to “room and contents,” wildfires, or other types of fires. When you see what these guys (and gals) have to do to complete this challenge, you will have a whole new sense of appreciation for what they do. As one firefighter said, “They don’t call it the toughest two-minutes in sports for nothing!” In order to complete this kind of challenge, you have to get into the best shape possible by building muscle and increasing your energy levels.
The Firefighter Challenge Events
Competitors in the Firefighter Challenge include both individuals and teams. Competitors must consecutively complete all five events, while wearing full firefighter safety gear and equipment. The gear includes a helmet, boots, gloves, and coat pants with liners. Competitors must also wear their self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA. To give you an idea of the SCBA, a typical one has a high-pressure tank, a pressure regulator, and a mouthpiece, mouth mask, or face mask for breathing – all of which is mounted to carrying frame. The gear alone can weigh anywhere between 60-115 pounds.
The Challenge is a timed event, beginning with the start of the first event and ending with the fifth and final event. Competitors must finish the entire course within six minutes. Completion times in less than three minutes are considered excellent; completion times in less than five minutes are considered acceptable. If at any point during the challenge a competitor’s health appears to be at risk, he or she will be removed from the competition. This kind of challenge requires the ultimate in stamina. You can build endurance by doing hardcore cardio training such as kickboxing.
The Stair Climb with High Rise Pack
The Challenge: Get a standard 42 pound, 100 foot long fire hose up to the top floor of a five-story building. As one firefighter said of this challenge, “It’s like putting on a 100 pound vest and breathing through a straw, while doing uphill runs.”
The competitors step up to the “start system”, where they must remain motionless for two seconds. Sort of like a drag race, when the green light comes on and the alarm goes off, it’s all systems go! The competitors reach down, pick up the 42-pound hose, and throw it over their outside shoulders. They must carry the hose up a steel-constructed stairwell tower to the fifth floor (41 feet from the ground to the top of the tower) and place it in a container box at the top of the stairwell. On the way up, the contestants can skip as many stairs as they want. The hose cannot touch the ground at any point before it hits the box. Firefighters can be disqualified if the hose slides out of or comes off the sides of the box. Once the hose is placed in the box, the competitors proceed to the second event.
The Hose Hoist
The Challenge: Hoist a 42 pound donut up the side of the stairwell tower and into a box.
With time still ticking, competitors continue to the second event: the hose hoist. In this event, competitors are at the top of the tower. Once the hose from the previous event has been placed in the box, they turn around lean over and grab a 5/8 inch sterling rope, the kind of chord used for rescue and climbing. Attached to the end of the rope is a 42 pound donut roll (the weight of the fire hose), which the competitors have to hoist, using a hand-over-hand motion, all the way to the top of the tower and into a basket – while maintaining control of the donut the entire time. If at any time the donut falls more than one story, it is considered a “loss of control,” which results in disqualification. To perform this feat, you need to build a strong upper body.
Once the hose is in the basket, the competitors move on to the next event by descending the stairs. The trick on the descent is that the competitors must touch each step, while at the same time, holding on to the handrails on each side of the stairwell. For each time a competitor misses holding on to the rail or touching a stair, a penalty of two seconds is added to the final time.
The Challenge: Using a sledge hammer, beat a 160-pound steel beam along a five-foot track.
Once they exit the last step, the competitors jump on top of the Keiser Forcible Entry Machine, “a simulated forcible entry-chopping device developed and manufactured by the Keiser Corporation, specifically for the fire service.” The event mimics breaking down the wall or the door of a burning building. In this event, the firefighters are moving 160 pounds of steel I-beam a total distance of five feet, by overhead-striking the sled-beam, again and again with a 9.6 pound sledge hammer. The handle of the hammer is marked with tape – at the point of impact, both hands must be above the tape.
A contestant is not allowed to hook, push, or rake the beam. The handle of the hammer cannot make contact with the beam at any time. If any part of the hammer other than the head hits the beam, a penalty is assessed. To ensure that proper contact with the beam is made, the beam is covered with a pressure-sensitive material which makes all infractions visible. A five-second penalty is assessed for each infraction after the first handle strike.
To give you an idea of the size of this beam, it is weighted to simulate a railroad tie. It should take about 25 strikes to move the beam the 5-foot distance. A two second penalty is assessed for every inch, or fraction thereof, that the sled is short of the end of the tray. If the competitor loses control of the hammer, meaning if it travels outside of the vertical boundaries of the tray, the competitor will be disqualified.
Once the beam has been moved, the contestant must drop the sledgehammer on the mat. Any part of the hammer must be placed on the designated mat. A two-second penalty is assessed if the hammer does not contact the mat. Once the hammer is placed, the contestants move on to the next event by running through the delineator (target) course. The course is basically a 140 foot slalom course, which they have to run through without missing or knocking over any of the targets. A five-second penalty is assessed for every infraction.
The Challenge: Run a 140-foot, loaded water hose through swinging doors and hit the target.
Time is still running here! At the end of the slalom course, the competitors must then reach down and grab a fully-charged, 140 foot long, 1.75 inch diameter water-hose and drag it for 75 feet through “saloon style” swinging doors. Failure to advance the hose the required 75 feet results in a 10-second penalty.
Once the doors have been penetrated, the competitor opens the nozzle and hits the designated target with a charge of water until the target drops. The nozzle must be shut before the hose is set down. If it is not, the competitor must go back and do it. The contestants can then drop the hose and run to the next event – the Victim Rescue.
Victim Rescue Event
The Challenge: Drag Randy, the 175 pound mannequin across the finish line.
Rescue Randy is a 175 pound, six-foot tall mannequin, which must be lifted from under the arms and dragged backward 106 feet across the finish line. Walking backwards while dragging this kind of weight requires building super-strong hamstrings! The course has a center delineating line. If any competitor crosses this line – meaning if the competitor goes out of his or her own lane – or grasps the mannequin by its clothes, a penalty of five seconds is assessed for each infraction. If at any time a competitor runs into an opposing competitor, he or she is automatically disqualified. The time does not stop until the heels of the mannequin have completely crossed the finish line. If the heels do not make it over the finish line, a two-second penalty is assessed on the final time. And lastly, a contestant may not “spike the dummy” at the end of the race – an act which results in immediate disqualification. (How do you spike a 175 pound dummy, anyway?) The competition officially ends when the first Randy makes it across the finish line.
And by the way, if you happen to be reading this because you are getting ready for your Firefighter interview, you can learn how to smoke your firefighter interview by taking a short course given by those in the know.