Jeffersontown Fire Department competes in Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge
Writer / Shannon Siders
Louisville has been home to “the most exciting two minutes in sports” since 1875, and in October, the city was the host site for “the toughest two minutes in sports,” the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge®.
The Kentucky Fire Commission and the City of Jeffersontown teamed up to bring the world championship of the challenge to J-Town, giving the Jeffersontown Fire Department Combat Challenge Team their first taste of competition. Typically, teams participate in qualifying events held across the United States throughout the year to make it to the championship, but Jeffersontown had a chance to compete thanks to the city’s hosting bid.
J-Town had two squads compete in the challenge, with the first team comprised of Major Chris Rader, Captain Tony Lawson, Captain Kevin Culver, Firefighter Greg Taylor and Firefighter Mike Clan. Team two was made up of Major Eric Dunn, Captain Eran Dunn, Sergeant Mike Wallingford, Firefighter Korey Miles and Firefighter Matt Thomas.
“It was a lot of fun, and we are actually already committed to continuing in the firefighter challenge combat games,” says Rader, a 17-year veteran of the department.
The 26th-annual games were held at the Louisville Marriott East on Embassy Square Boulevard from October 23 – 28. The event featured teams from over a dozen countries and representation from most of the United States, and was broadcast live on ESPN-3.
Overall, the teams were happy with their performance in the games. One J-Town squad won their first relay event but lost their second to an international team from Slovenia. That Slovenia team went on to place second overall, with the Montgomery Blue team out of Alabama taking the title.
“We’d never seen or done the challenge before and went out and posted a 1:21 time,” Rader says. “It was neat to do.”
That time put the squad in the Top-20 in the world for relay finishers. But beyond the competition and results, the event was enjoyable for the J-Town squads because of the interaction with other fire departments from around the country and the world.
“Firefighters are a brotherhood, and it was fun to not only compete with our brothers, but to cheer each other on each time we’d run the event,” Rader says. “It was such an overwhelming and tiresome event, and it was nice to be able to cheer on brothers from other countries to finish the challenge.”
The Jeffersontown teams had just five weeks to prepare for the challenge. The squads spent a few mornings each week training at the Fern Creek Fire District on Fairmount Road in the weeks leading up to the event.
“We didn’t know anything about the challenge before we started training,” Rader says. “We went to the fire academy where the competition tower for the challenge was already set up and looked to see who was the best at doing what event.”
The challenge is a strenuous exercise designed to test the physical abilities of a firefighter. Chief David Gratz, Director of Fire / Rescue Services in Montgomery County, Maryland, created the competition in 1974 with the intent to develop a physical ability test to determine whether an applicant had the requisite capabilities to perform the essential job functions of a firefighter.
The challenge would also serve to demonstrate the rigors of the firefighting profession to the public, with the aim of bringing more respect to the job. The competition debuted publicly in 1991 and has grown to become a nationally televised event with hundreds of competitors each year.
During the relay, each competitor wears more than 60 pounds of gear and equipment, including the Scott 5.5 Air-Pak breathing apparatus to simulate what they’d be wearing in an actual emergency situation.
The relay starts by carrying a four-inch hose load and cover up a five-story staircase. The competitor must hoist the 42-pound rolled hose up five stories using a kernmantle rope, then sprint back down the five stories of stairs, touching every step along the way.
Next, the competitor must drive a sled with a 160-pound steel beam a horizontal distance of five feet, using a nine-pound shot mallet. A 140-foot slalom course comes next, which must be navigated without missing or knocking over a hydrant.
After that, the competitor picks up the nozzle end of a 1.75 inch charged hose line, dragging it 75 feet. Once the nozzle reaches the threshold, the competitor opens the nozzle, hits the target with a water stream, shuts down the nozzle and places it on the pavement.
To top off the event, the competitor must lift and drag a 175-pound Rescue RandyⓇ mannequin backwards a distance of 106 feet.
This challenge would be difficult in normal workout clothes, and the public really gets to see what it’s like to race against the clock while wearing the heavy-duty fire gear.
During the relay competition, teams of five competitors race their opponents to see who can achieve the fastest time. The world record for the male relay was set at 1:02:79 by the Carlsbad Fire squad out of New Mexico in 2017.
Other teams from around Kentucky also participated in the competition, including Louisville Fire, the Bardstown Fire Department and the Lexington Fire Department.
At least one Jeffersontown team will compete at a regional qualifier in Indianapolis this August for a shot at participating in the 2018 world championship, to be held in San Diego.
Until then, it’s business as usual for the Jeffersontown Fire Department. The 44 full-time and four part-time firefighters for the department work out of two stations and an administrative office in J-Town. The department makes around 2,500 runs per year, which averages to almost seven calls a day, ranging from fire to medical emergencies.
For more information on the competition or the Jeffersontown team’s upcoming competitions, you can visit the “Jeffersontown Fire Department Combat Challenge Team” page on Facebook, or firefighterchallenge.com.