Sunday, May 27, 2012

More Older Guys Stuff

Following on the thread of some of my earlier posts about the War Horses of the Challenge, I want to do a shout out for our senior citizens. This weekend, here in Farmer’s Branch I was talking to one of the firefighters who was helping us reset the course. He told me that they (the Farmer’s Branch FD) used a version of the course as a condition of employment test. He disclosed that he was 61 and was rightfully proud that he routinely passed the test, remarking, “When I can’t do this, it’s time to hang it up.” 

Jack (C) with another venerable +60, Ted Overcash (R)
That kind of honesty and maturity is refreshing. It’s also inspirational. I mean, what kind of an excuse can you muster as a 20-something year old and you’re flailing away, barely out of recruit school?

In the spirt of rewarding our long-term, loyal seniors, we’re making a policy change; no registration fee for individuals over 60. Jim Key, retired from Austin, but still actively training new firefighters is the first beneficiary of this new rule. Another benefactor will be Chuck LeBlanc who only last week conducted the first Good To Go (G2G) program in New England.

We’ll write more about the G2G Program in the not too distant future, but G2G is designed to prepare firefighters to perform their job more safely by increasing their tolerance for the sometimes arduous assignments associated with a working fire. 

In this same column, it’s appropriate to send a shout-out to Jack Hickey who just retired after 36 years from St. John’s Regional in Newfoundland Labrador. Better known as “Lord of the Rings,” Jack may have hung up his Division Chief’s radio, but he’s not out yet. While he’s been disqualified as a retiree in Canada, you’ll see him here in the U.S. in his bunker gear in an upcoming event. 

Last week in Charleston, I was listening to the crowd response when Mike Word announced that Bill Pietrantonio, racing on a tandem team was 63. People around me were in disbelief. 

If you didn’t know how old you were, how old would you think you were? 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stopping the Clock

Recently, at a Regional Competition at the conclusion of the Relay, the apparent winner fell down while attempting to yank the dummy over the finish line. The ensuing, emotionally-charged protest suggested that not everyone reads the rules. We’re torn between providing a detailed pre-competition briefing and getting the show launched as most Competitors seem to stay current. For the rookies, too much information is like trying to drink from a fire hose.

Two years ago, after observing the unsafe manner with which Competitors were hurling themselves across the finish line, the Rules Committee wrote the narrative below. Note that the official rules are posted on the Firefighter Combat Challenge website:

Time stops when the competitor and mannequin completely crosses the finish line. It is the responsibility of the competitor to drag the heels of the mannequin over the finish line. If the heels of the dummy do not make contact with the finish line (i.e. - the competitor lunges), a stopwatch time will be used, and a two second penalty will be assessed. If there is a mechanical problem with the clock, there is no penalty. The Course Marshal, at his sole discretion, may stop any competitor who in the official's opinion creates or is in a dangerous, unsafe or stressful condition. Spiking the dummy at anytime will result in disqualification. Spiking is defined as any elbow movement other than extension while releasing the dummy.

In addition to the potential for personal injury when falling or failing to control one’s movement (i.e., losing one’s balance or lunging), the damage to the sponsor’s SCBA equipment is unsustainable. Also, the carpets and crash pads are subjected to unnecessary destruction. 

Over the years as a part of the Pre-Competition Briefing, I have repeatedly made the point that one does not improve their time by lunging. Lunging is not unlike sliding into First Base. The effect of this rule change was immediately evident. Damage to the equipment and rug stopped. Competitors were finishing under control, thereby validating the necessity of this change in the rules. Another benefit is the fact that there is no longer any ambiguity about who won the race. 

Now the clocks tell the entire story; i.e., the first team to stop the clock in a very close race, absent penalties, is the winner. The two second penalty is fair and there have been no incidents associated with close finishes. Even if and when the clock is not showing the elapsed time, the computer is still working- perhaps giving rise to the impression that the clock is not running. Note: the displays over the finish line are NOT the clock(s). All timing data are continued in our Algae system. 

All competitors are responsible for reviewing the current rules. By executing the Waiver Form, you attest to the fact that you have read the rules and are conversant with all aspects of the competition; 

The activities involved in the Challenge have been fully explained to me. I understand them and represent to the administrators of the Challenge that I am physically fit to perform such vigorous and strenuous activities without any threat to my health or safety. I fully realize the dangers of participating in the Challenge and fully assume the dangers and risks, whether obvious or latent, associated with such participation. I also agree to participate in accordance with the rules and judgments of the umpires and understand that referees decisions in all matters are final.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Larry Vandenberg: Fireman

I met Larry in 1992 in the parking lot of the Anaheim Marriott. The event was our first World Challenge; actually we didn’t know it would be the first event in a series that has stretched out over two decades. But alas, I digress.

Larry was our first over 50 competitor. He was a guy that refused to quit. Never a speed demon, but Larry would saddle up and walk out on the course and “get ‘er done.” He subscribed to the theory that if any firefighter pulled up on the scene, he should be able to get off the rig without any notice and run the Challenge.

I found this thinking to be infectious. After all, why not? Larry’s fitness did not occur by accident. He didn’t train for the Challenge. Larry trained to do the job. Being able to complete the Challenge was a natural by-product.

Larry proudly wore his Anaheim Fire Department “Fireman” badge. He was proud of that badge and would not surrender it for an upgrade.

Shortly after I met Larry, I was told that he had coded at work. He was resuscitated and found that he had SSS (Sick Sinus Syndrome) an annoying pathology that resulted in his heart stopping beating at the least opportune times.

When Larry showed up to run the challenge, I was astounded. I said, “Are you sure you should be doing this?” To which he responded that his cardiologist had cleared him to do anything he wanted except arc welding.

Larry ran a number of competitions up until the time that he retired. But that has not stopped Larry for continually engaging in a wide range of recreational pursuits such as crewing for a hot air balloon team. He arranged my first balloon ride in Riverside.  When we needed help with our LEOPARD (Law Enforcement Officer Performance And Reaction Drill) competition, Larry was there to help set up and be a judge.

This is as it should be; taking care of oneself to enjoy that length of service retirement- versus being trapped in a body incapable of movement.

When we needed help in Las Vegas with our merchandise activities, Larry was there. When I needed someone to scrub the spray chalk arrows off the course because the Angel management said we could wait for the rain to wash it away, Larry was there. Larry is that special guy who will show up at 0200 hrs when you’re broken down on the 405 freeway.

This month, Larry turns 70! Holy Cow! When I grow up, I want to be Larry.