Breaking many boundaries, firefighters from the U.S. and Canada met for the annual Firefighter Combat Challenge held last Saturday at the Manassas Mall.
In total there were 44 different departments from Miami to New York City competing, all hoping to qualify for the national competition in Las Vegas.
The event tests an assortment of skills that firefighters use on the job — from running up stairs to chopping down doors.
“[I compete] because it’s fun. I like the physical fitness, I like the competition, I like the camaraderie,” said Capt. Jerome Williams, a Fairfax County firefighter since 1985 who works out of Annandale's station 8B and lives in the Centre Ridge community in Centreville.
WEARING FULL bunker gear and a Scott breathing apparatus (SCBA), firefighters simulated the physical demands of real life firefighting by competing in the series of five tasks. Dominating the landscape was a five-story hydraulic tower, the centerpiece of all the activity. Competitors climb to the top of the tower carrying a 42-pound hose pack; then hoist it to the top; next they descend to the ground floor where they simulate chopping by swinging a 9-pound shot mallet on the end of a 160-pound steel beam. They then zigzag 140 feet through simulation hydrants to the fourth station, where they advance an attack hose a distance of 75 feet; and finally, competitors drag a life-sized, 175-pound "victim" a distance of 100 feet to the finish line.
Firefighters could compete as individuals or as teams in a race against the clock and their opposition.
“[The Fairfax County team] took a year off, but now I am glad we are here,” said Williams after winning his individual heat with a time 1:54. He now qualifies to attend the nationals held in Las Vegas.
To Williams, the Challenge is more than winning or losing — “it is a great way to stay in touch. [Firefighters] get the chance to talk about each other’s departments, different techniques, and share stories,” he said.
THE EVENT is geared towards physical fitness, and gives firefighters an incentive to be in their best physical shape.
“[Williams’ physical dedication and success] shows the new recruits that come in that age does not make a difference,” said Capt. Karen Brinkley of the Basic Training Section. “[Williams] is words of wisdom,” said firefighter Brian Edmonston. “He helps out the younger guys at training.”
“[The Challenge] is fun, and it’s physical,” said Williams. “The fire service has changed a lot because of physical fitness.”
In his mid-30s, Williams was raised in New York, and later came to Fairfax County after completing his education. Coming from a family of policemen, he was the first to become a firefighter.
“[I became a firefighter because] I like helping people; I like the great big firefighter family,” said Williams. “It does not matter where you go, what country you are in, what state you are in, what color you are, or anything else, you will be greeted with an open hand.”
Now a senior member at his fire station, Williams has received an array of awards ranging from a life saving award in 1996 to becoming firefighter of the year in 1998.
“I work with a great group of people, everyone is gun-ho, we eat together every night, we are a huge family,” Williams said. “The only thing that separates [firefighters] is our [station] boundaries.”