Local firefighters work towards FireFit nationals - July 20, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
Several members of local fire departments have taken their firefighting skills to the next level by competing in the FireFit competition – a test of strength, skill and endurance aimed at firefighters.
The competition, which ends with a national event in Ottawa in September, involves firefighters and other emergency service individuals donning their full bunker (or firefighting) gear and taking on a six-stage competition in the individual event.
Locally, firefighters from the Huron East Fire Department and the Fire Department of North Huron (FDNH) are participating in the event with two having already tentatively qualified for the nationals and the others hoping that, later in the summer at a competition in Oshawa, they can post times to earn them a berth at the nationals.
From the Fire Department of North Huron, Alain Dery and firefighters Jeff Elliott and Amanda Bekkers have been competing. From the Huron East Fire Department (HEFD) Chris Gibson of the Brussels station and James Yates of the Grey station take part in the competition.
Gibson said the event is called “the toughest two minutes in sports,” but, if things don’t go well, it can turn into six or 10 minutes.
“It’s a challenge to test skills and it’s open to all firefighters,” he said. “Volunteer, full-time, any age. Anyone can compete.”
The group responsible for the event FireFit of Canada Ltd., which works its way east across the country hosting the events. Gibson said there are two to three stops per participating province and the national event runs Sept. 6-10 in Ottawa.
The competition includes a six-flight, 60-step, 40-foot high stair climb with a 42 pound bundle of hoses called the high rise pak. The pak is carried on the firefighter’s shoulder and adds to the weight of the already heavy bunker gear. After reaching the top, the second event is a hose hoist where a roll of hose weighing 45 pounds is pulled up to the top of the structure. Following that, competitors must descend the stairs, making sure to use handrails and touch all steps on the way down. The third event is called forcible entry and includes a chopping simulator. Using a nine pound mallet, competitors have to move a beam a certain distance. A zig-zag run follows at which point a fully charged hose has to be dragged 75 feet then discharged in an attempt to hit a target. Finally, a simulated victim rescue is the last event in which the firefighter needs to drag a 165 pound mannequin backwards for a distance of 100 feet.
Bekkers, in an interview with The Citizen just prior to training over the weekend, said her first competition at Wasaga Beach on July 8 was an eye-opener.
“It was a unique experience,” she said.
Bekkers had joined the team because, as a rookie to the FDNH, she saw it as an opportunity to familiarize herself with her bunker gear in a fast-paced environment. Other members of the group joined because they were told it would be a fun experience.
“I had a buddy who is 20 years old who said this is a good idea,” Yates, who competes in the over-40 category, said with a laugh. “I said let’s do it. What’s the worst that can happen?”
While Yates said it wasn’t easy, he and Gibson, who competed in a tandem event called the X3, need to only shave three seconds off their 02:03 time to qualify for the national event.
Gibson also qualified for his individual run, finishing the course in 1:53:46. He said the competition provided an opportunity for him to measure his fitness as a firefighter.
North Huron hasn’t fielded a tandem team yet, however the three competitors are excited to be competing.
Dery, who also qualified in the Over-55 category with a time of 2:23, said he enjoys the challenge, but also likes to meet all the firefighters that are a part of the event.
“You can find some good friendships with all of them,” he said.
Yates agreed, saying he has never experienced such camaraderie between competitors than he has at the events.
“The only anger you can see is self-frustration,” he said. “You see people saying they should have done better, or they wish they shaved three seconds. Everyone is really supportive of everyone else, but they are all rough on themselves.”
The firefighters is getting ready for the next event on Aug. 26 in Oshawa and spend their Saturday and Sunday mornings training. Normally, they train at the FDNH Wingham fire hall, however on Saturday, the team took to the Goderich beach to take advantage of the long stairs from the beach to the bluffs of the town. While it’s difficult to match the steepness of the six-storey stairs that travel with the competition, Elliott said the Goderich site was the closest they could find.
Aside from thanking their friends, family and fire departments for the support they receive, the squad also said they needed to thank Wescast Industries Inc. in Wingham, which allowed the team to use its training dummy since late 2016.
“We have really benefitted from having that,” Gibson said.
For more information, or to follow results from the event, visit www.firefit.com