Nov 15, 2012 1:01 PM by Andy Koen
Firefighters from the US Air Force Academy are in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this week competing in the World Firefighter Combat Challenge. The competition combines the most physically demanding aspects of a firefighter's job and condenses them into an all out sprint.
"It's built upon tasks your supposed to perform at a fire scene, maybe not at the speed in which we, but definitely in the sense of urgency," explains firefighter Bill Gates.
It's not for the faint of heart. The starting line is the base of a six story flight of stairs. Competitors wear their full fire gear and carry a bundle of fire hose with them to the top of the platform. When they reach the top they drop the hose into a bin and then begin pulling a coil of hose up to the platform using a rope.
From there it's a swift descent being careful to touch every step. They then run from the tower to a charged fire hose, push through an obstacle and spray at a target.
The final leg of the race requires lifting a 185 pound dummy and pulling them to the finish line. Steven Rousseau is a rookie member of the team this year and says the end of the race is a killer.
"Just when you're running a solo, you're legs are already shot," Rousseau said. "So, picking up a 185 pound dummy is quite the challenge."
But it's a task that Team USAFA is ready to take on. Roy Dalton is one of the few elite firefighters over the age of 40 to ever finish the course in under 2:00 minutes. He says the team's strength comes from the character of its individual members.
"Truly the competitive nature is, I think, the fact that we have a lot of guys that are individually competitive and we just put that together as a team," he said.
The team heads into the competition with momentum. Gates took the individual title at the National Firefighter Combat Challenge last month in Las Vegas. His time of 1:29.76 was 2.6 seconds faster than the next competitor.
In fact, every member of the Academy team finished in the top 20, all clocked times below two minutes. Anthony "Tank" McMurtry finished fourth, Pat Kraft finished ninth, Dalton finished 13th, Hans Barkley finished 14th and Rousseau finished 16th.
As teammates, the emotional bond between these men is already great. But there may be a little extra emotion pushing them this year after having fought together on the front lines of the Waldo Canyon Fire.
"Once the fire came over to this side of the mountain we could see it coming, we knew that it was going to be here," Dalton recalled.
It was through that disaster that they experienced a show of support from the community that Gates says was rivaled only by the days following the September 11th terror attacks. It's a common appreciation that's shared by all who answer the call to serve their community.
"At the end of the day, we're all firefighters," Gates said. "We can shake each others hands and enjoy just a good weekend of competition."
The competition runs through Saturday. Click here to watch a live video stream of the competition.