Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Firefighters ready for challenge

By David Eck
Enquirer contributor

        EVENDALE — Pulling, sweating and grunting their way through a five-phase obstacle course, a team of Evendale firefighters is working toward the Firefighter Combat Challenge world finals in Florida this fall.

        The Evendale team has already competed in two regional competitions this year, placing second and seventh.

        The second-place finish was during June in Rockford, Ill., where the firefighters lost to a team from Orange County, Calif. They won seventh place at a regional competition last weekend in Battle Creek, Mich.

        Their performance in the regionals qualifies the team for the world competition in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Oct. 30-Nov. 2, which will be broadcast on ESPN.

        The relay-style challenge requires each five-member team to complete the following: climb five stories while lugging a 45-pound hose roll, drive a 165-pound beam five feet, drag a fire hose 75 feet, pull a hose roll up five stories, and pull a 185-pound mannequin 100 feet — all while wearing full gear. Each member completes one event as teams race each other for the best time.

        Evendale's best? One minute, 35 seconds.

        “Even a half-second can make a difference in whether we move to the next round or we don't,” Evendale firefighter/paramedic Rob Haynes said. "All of the events that we do are job specific.”

        Besides the enjoyment of competition, team members say the events help keep them physically fit for their jobs. It also shows the department in a positive light, administrators say.

        Evendale, a suburb of 3,000 people, has 18 full-time firefighters and seven officers.

        “By us conditioning for the events, we try to maintain a certain physical fitness,” firefighter/paramedic Chip Rielage said. “It improves our ability to perform firefighting functions on a daily basis.”

        About 80 teams from fire departments around the world will attend the world finals, and the 64 fastest make it past a qualifying round. The 64 teams are seeded and compete against one another.

        Evendale's team qualified for the world competition last year, but lost in the first round to a team from Deerfield Beach.

        This year's goal: making it to the final four.

        “I think what we want to really accomplish is bettering our times,” Mr. Rielage said.

        “Being a small department, we want to really capitalize on becoming better at our own events. We really just want to accomplish a self-set goal of bettering ourselves and maintaining our own physical fitness in the process.”

        The Evendale team, which has been together since January, continues to practice and make adjustments to get through the course faster.

        “When an event's coming up, we'll train once or twice a week,” Mr. Rielage said.

        “We know what we can do, where we can improve.”


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