Area firefighters test mettle against best world offers 

"Toughest two minutes in sports."

Type it into an online search engine and you might expect mixed martial arts, rugby, roller derby or even some crazy Japanese obstacle course. But instead, firefighters top the results. The videos that come up on the Web are of the Firefighter The Firefighter Combat Challenge, a grueling skills test that focuses on the physically challenging aspects of a firefighter's job.

42 POUNDS OF HOSE
PROMOTE FITNESS
TEAM NORMAN SONIC

The Firefighter Combat Challenge takes place throughout the year in different cities and culminates in the annual World Challenge. Metro firefighters from Edmond and Norman have qualified and will be competing in Las Vegas this November. Each group will stage fund-raisers to help with the travel and equipment costs.

The Edmond team is holding a car wash fund-raiser Oct. 25 at the Lowe's parking lot, 1320 E. 2nd in Edmond. The Norman squad will raffle off a custom painted fire helmet autographed by Bob Stoops, Barry Switzer and other Sooner legends. The winner will be chosen during the Big 12 Championship game, Dec. 6.

So, what makes for the toughest two minutes in sports?

42 POUNDS OF HOSE
In full gear and wearing the breathing apparatus, competitors start off by picking up a "high rise pack," which is 42 pounds of hose that must be carried up four floors and then dropped into a container. Then, they must hoist a rope attached to another 42-pound hose sitting on the ground floor. The challenger must then run back down the stairs to a chopping simulator, which is a 160-pound sled that must be hit with a rubber mallet until it has traveled five feet, replicating a forced entry using an axe.

After that, competitors face a slalom course to retrieve a hose that must be pulled through a pair of swinging doors so that the competitor can then spray down a target. Finally, a 175-pound dummy must be dragged 100 feet to the finish line.

There are three different races " the individual, relay and tandem races. The individual race is by far the hardest, partially due to the addition of the breathing apparatus. 

"The individual is a mother," said Greg Blackburn, a 22-year veteran of the Norman Fire Department. "It's one guy doing the whole race and when you are doing it, you have to wear your mask and breathe out of your bottle, where as in relays you don't. That just makes it way tough."

"This is definitely legs and lungs," said Luke Gregory, an eight-year veteran of the Edmond Fire Department. "You have to have good cardiovascular and some real strength in your legs because by the time you get to the dummy in the last section of the course, your legs are smoke. You don't want to pull him, so it's about mental fortitude just getting him to the finish."

PROMOTE FITNESS
The event is meant to promote fitness among firemen, and Edmond firefighter Lindall Wood found the sport last year before he was even a fireman. He wanted to train for the department's physical fitness test, which weeds out recruits during the hiring process.

"You watch these videos on YouTube, but it doesn't do it any justice at all. You can watch a guy who does it in a minute-thirty and then a guy who does it in three minutes and I guarantee that three minutes is not easy," Wood said. "It's really intense work and it humbled me, I thought I was in good shape, but after I was done, it felt like I got hit by a train."

Initially, Wood and Gregory were only intending on competing individually, but the two did so well in the Altus challenge that they decided to pull a team together to compete in the other events.

Blackburn specializes in the over-50 tandem division, taking third in last year's World Challenge. During the qualifier in Tyler, Texas, Blackburn's team finished a half second off the world record time, so they are hoping to win it all in Las Vegas.

Micah Miles was in the same recruit class with Wood. Miles went to the qualifying competition in Altus in August just to watch the others compete. He was so impressed that he decided to compete in Tyler in September and managed to qualify.

"It's good for team building," Miles said. "I was close to Lindell, but these other guys I just talked to here and there. Now we are traveling together, coming out to practice during our free time and it's something that brings us closer as a group."

Time and money are big hurdles, which Gregory said had been a big part of the reason Edmond hadn't formed a team up to this point. To compete with the top squads, they are hoping to raise enough money to purchase gear specifically designed for the race. The race gear has all the metal and pockets stripped off to cut weight anywhere they can, yet is still sturdy enough to be considered protective gear.

TEAM NORMAN SONIC
Blackburn's squad is called Team Norman Sonic, a nod to their sponsor, which Blackburn said is critical for any competitors who want to be able to challenge the best teams in the world.

"If you want to compete, you have to have a sponsor," Blackburn said. "You have to train, you have to go to events and it is just impossible to do on your own. It's impossible to fly six guys down to Miami Beach for a competition, so without a sponsor, we couldn't do it at all."

The Edmond firefighters are in the process of trying to secure sponsorship, which will be rewarded by ad space on their gear. The competition will be televised on Versus this year, gaining national visibility to sponsors.

"We take great pride in what we're doing," Wood said. "I enjoy the training part and representing the department and the community."

Wood said that the team members are training around five days a week, whether it's lifting weights, working on their cardiovascular or going out to the Edmond training ground to work on the various aspects of the challenge.

The Edmond training ground is a compound of buildings built for one purpose: to burn. Located behind Fire Station No. 5, 5300 E. Covell, the Edmond Fire Department will train by burning cars, houses, replicating kitchen fires and pulling clumsy "citizens" out of manholes. The combat challenge competitors will specifically make use of the four-story building and even pull in other non-competing firefighters to help them train.

Though only a small group will be making the trip to Las Vegas, Miles said that the inherent competitive nature of firefighters has inspired the others to try out the course and do whatever they can to give the Edmond team an edge over other departments.          

"There are definitely a lot more people involved than just the guys running the course," Miles said. "Everyone wants to get involved, even if they aren't competing.  They just want to help us in any way we need it." "Charles Martin

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