Monday, August 28, 2017

Reflections on the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge®

Here you go Paul – thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts! Jim
Dr. Paul Davis, Conor Pietrangelo and B/C Jim Pietrangelo, Pouder Fire Authority, Ft. Collins, CO
Boy how the years fly by while working in the fire service. For those of you that have been around for awhile, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not sure it’s the 24-hour shift schedule, or the amazing things we get to do and see, or the camaraderie we experience with our brothers and sisters that create that perception. It was painfully obvious to my senses when I recently attended a regional Firefighter Combat Challenge (FCC) in Longmont, Colorado. The piercing sound of the warble starting horn, the distinct “clank” of the mallet hitting a Keiser beam, and most notably, the rapid rise of my heartbeat when I saw the SCBA staging tent; you know what I mean by that!

The last time I set foot on the sight of a Firefighter Combat Challenge event was 14 years ago in Ottawa. It was the world championships and I was interviewing competitors on the course for the television broadcast. Prior to firefighting, I worked in the television news business. I started competing in the FCC as a rookie with the Poudre Fire Authority (PFA) in Fort Collins in 1994. My first competition was at Rocks Community College in Denver, Colorado. The top individual times in the world then were near the lower 2- minute range. The stairs and tower were constructed from scaffolding by volunteers and were really steep! The Keiser Sled took 10-15 hits to move the beam the required distance. A warmed up mallet head helped move the beam faster along with a clean track (no bead dust from the mallet head). Running around the cones was not allowed. It kind of sounds like the old sob story our parents would tell us about their youth; walking 3 miles to school, uphill, while wading through 3 feet of snow and blizzards, etc., etc.! The course was truly more difficult back then and it took a couple of years to learn how to prepare for the “toughest two-minutes in sports”. I competed up until 2003 when injuries from a motorcycle wreck ended my run. That was a tough time for me as I somehow knew I would no longer be able to physically do the things I often took for granted.

The recent visit in Longmont brought back a lot of memories for me. The best memories will always center on the people I met and competed against. It was great to see Dr. Paul Davis again and to see that his vision for a world class competition is still going strong. He’s been a big supporter of the fire service for many years and has not aged a bit since the last time I saw him in Ottawa. Paul’s vision and drive to create something that showcased the fire service has helped strengthen relationships between firefighters and their communities. I’ll never forget the “senior” competitors like the friendly and funny Larry Vandenberg and the first 60-year-old world record holder, Roy Davis.

Watching them compete was simply inspiring. Competing against some of the best in the world was an honor. I ran against 3-time world champion Brian Spalding from Casper, Wyoming. I finally beat him in 1998 at a regional competition and most of the credit goes to him, Mike Vogt and the rest of the Casper team that mentored us back then. We had a great relationship with Casper because of PFA firefighter and one-time world champion, Dave Minchow. Dave used to work at Casper in the 1980s. I met Dave shortly after I graduated from the fire academy. I’ll never forget the phone call I received from him my rookie year, a week after I had graduated from the fire academy. He called me “Peter D’ Angelo” and challenged me to do the FCC with him that summer. I took him up on his offer and never regretted it.

Some other memories and people that come to mind during my challenge tenure; Mark Millward from Delta, BC “Men in Black”, drinking a beer prior to his run against me (and wouldn’t you know, he beat me) and kissing everyone on the cheek; beating Kevin Voyles in a 1998 regional only to find out after I crossed the finish line that I was penalized 2-seconds and had to settle for second place; watching Vince Rafferty from Colorado pick up Rescue Randy and carry it across the finish line; witnessing Juliet Draper’s world record run; the incredibly fast teams from Missoula and Overland Park; running into Ken Griffey Jr. in the elevator at the Vegas world championships in the MGM and mistaking him for a basketball player at UNLV; drinking with competitors at the Irish bar in Ybor City and introducing my teammates to the Hare Krishna on the street corner; hanging with Doug Hall and Bobby Russell from Overland Park; and finally, standing in that damn SCBA tent waiting to start my run against my competitor with my resting heartrate at 160! 

There were some difficult memories as well. The Line of Duty Death of Houston firefighter and FCC competitor Kimberly Smith, who was killed during a fire at a MacDonald’s restaurant in 2000. And Division Chief and two-time champion Brent Cooper of North Las Vegas who lost his battle with cancer in 2000, just a few months prior to the world championships in Las Vegas. 

The most profound memories for me will always surround the relationships that we made with our fellow firefighters and competitors. These were special friendships that were built through sharing the agony of training and competing for one of the toughest competitions around. Similar to the way we build relationships as a team when solving the most difficult emergency incidents we respond to. Unfortunately, as time passes by, we lose touch with those folks who’ve helped build those fond memories. For those of you still competing, hang on to those memories through documentation, photographs and phone calls to one another. Maybe Paul could host an “alumni” event of which would bring back some of the original competitors.

Every year I continue to mull over the possibility of coming back to compete again. Injuries and limited time to train for the FCC continue to push back on that dream. It seems my mid-life crisis rears its ugly head from time to time, wanting to show my 13-year old son, Connor, that with hard work comes success. He wasn’t born when I last competed, so I recently dug out some old VHS tapes that contained a number of my challenge runs. He asked if I would do it again and if I could win the 50-year old competition. I told him it wasn’t so much about wanting to win, but more about the journey it takes to cross the finish line; and sharing that feeling with others who have gone through a similar path of arduous training and focus to be the best that they can be.

Jim Pietrangelo
Battalion Chief
Poudre Fire Authority
Fort Collins, Colorado
FCC Competitor 1994-2003

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Parting Note from a Challenge Legend

Image result for Bill Pietrantonio

Hey Doc,

I will not be competing anymore and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for you have done for me and the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

It has been a special part of my life. I have met a tremendous number of fantastic firefighters who truly appreciate what it means to be a firefighter.

I wish you, the crew and all the competitors all best this year and in the future.

Thanks again.

Bill Pietrantonio
P.S. keep up the great work and dedication.

Here’s a “rant” that Bill sent me some time back:
I thought I would get a jump on this topic with an old guys view. First and foremost, I believe that no limitations should be imposed other than running together prior to nationals and worlds. We can debate counties, states, mutual aid districts, paychecks and whatever else we can come up with forever. The fact remains that there is no common denominator between fire departments. The size of the departments are different- counties are 5 square miles to 20,000 sq miles, and different populations. No one thing is equal except the firefighter. He is, and will always be not only the equal component but most importantly the DECIDING FACTOR.

I have never seen a STACKED TEAM. What I have seen are teams with more resources... such as an entire course to train on, sponsorships, dept. support and the desire to compete. These are significant advantages that are never factored into a race. The military teams frequently have everything at their disposal to train with. Yet does anyone bitch? No. Why? Because it is a non-issue. We all run against the course and the clock. If you want a better time, you work and train harder with the resources you have available.

I am old school... one man does not make a TEAM. Hard work and trust in our guys make a TEAM better than limitations on who can be on your team. That is school yard bull. These guys do not go to an incident and say, “I can't handle this because I do not have so-and-so from the next county because he is the best roof man in the state.” No; they adapt and overcome. The foundation of firefighting which the challenge imitates is to test our skills. Part of the test is to use your resources to the best of your ability to accomplish the goal.

Sorry about the rant, but it seems that some people want to stack the deck by limiting the competition instead of working hard. Two examples of how hard work makes a difference... John McGee..aka "Next time better time." The man never complained even after by pass surgery. He always worked hard to be better. Roy Davis: Roy was an average runner until about the age 57. He then went on a workout program that some of the young guns could not do. That made him a superstar. Dedication, determination and hard work put Roy in a category of his own. I’m sure that you know more guys that have similar stories.

Keep the tradition; let guys work and earn the not give it away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Protecting the Southern Border

A few years ago, I was part of an 8-member team consisting of Border Patrol Agents and Occupational Health Physiologists that would study job-related injuries in the Border Patrol. Over the span of this one-year project, I spent one month walking the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas with Agents.

At the time the Workers' Comp rate for Agents was worse than the US Marine Corps. I wondered why? That is, until I actually saw the environment in which Agents worked.

This is not traditional law enforcement; it's more like foot-based infantry in some of the world's most inhospitable environment. Everything out there can hurt you. Poisonous snakes that bite. Plant life that will cut, poke, scrape and irritate. And, of course, insects.

There's a lot of talk about building a wall. The estimated cost is huge. This video provides a perspective that I doubt most Americans are aware of.

This is a video shot on the Southern Border in California. Read the description for more information. A 360° View of the Mexico-US Border

The U.S.-Mexico Border, Then and Now

I don't have much to add to the commentary; these Agents tell it pretty much like it is.

A section of the wall near El Paso

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Commentary from a Rookie

Ed Lyell and new-found friend and Coach: Ken Helgerson
Dr Paul,

I have been working full time in Fire and Emergency Medical Service for 29 Years and this January I came to a point in my Career where I no longer felt much Brotherhood in the Fire Service and felt like I no longer mattered within My Fire Department. Physically I was completing multiple 100 Mile Ultramarathons and Triathlons along with Open Water Swimming. I found this was not much help with the specific skills we do and I was in terrible Fire Service Shape. Also, I saw that Internally my body was fighting early stages of Heart Disease and Pre Diabetes. All of these together I knew I needed to do something drastic to be able to make it to Retirement and Beyond.

So at 47, I decided to train and compete in my first Firefighter Combat Challenge at FDIC.

In training, I found little or no support from My Brother Firefighters some of who were former competitors. Troy Brown at My Department helped me transform my workouts to build the strength needed to complete the event. The first time I actually ran the whole course was at FDIC.

At FDIC I was overwhelmed by the Pride and Brotherhood that I and my wife Rieko felt. Immediately at warm ups, Brothers were pulling me aside and giving me suggestions and walking me through the course.

When I lined up to start, little did I know that the Brother standing next to me would become my Mentor and Guide through this journey.

While I was trying to survive my first time out Ken Helgerson finished in Personal Record time joining the Lion’s Den. The next thing I know is Ken is by my side every step of the way and as I fell at the end I could hear Ken and Mike Word yelling "Pull, Pull, Pull!" and somehow Rescue Randy and I made it across the line. In that moment my Life has changed forever!

Since FDIC Ken has been in constant contact and I had the honor to compete with him as part of a Tandem Team in Longmont, Colorado. The Lessons he gave me has got me hooked on the Tandem event in addition to the Individual. Though I learned my lesson at Sulphur Springs, Texas that three Tandems in a day can be tough.

Social Media has been a fantastic place to exchange training suggestions and critique. Matt Baca has been my online and in-person mentor along with so many others.

I have completed Seven events this Year and to memorialize my Lucky 7 I got the Firefighter Combat Challenge Tattoo as a constant Reminder of the Pride and Brotherhood that the challenge celebrates.

Over the last Seven events I have truly discovered the Jacobs Ladder of Learning that Ken Helgerson described. Each time I compete I learn something new to improve my performance and I look forward to one day Joining the Lions Den!

Thank You, Dr. Paul for creating this life changing event. I truly appreciate it.

Kind Regards,

Edward Lyell
Federal Fire San Diego

The Japanese characters are “Firefighter”

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Testimonial from Jim Neville

Jim Neville, retired from Morton Grove, IL paid us a visit at the Boulder County Fair just a couple of weeks ago. He brought with him some of his Challenge Bling pictured below. At some urging several years ago, I asked Jim to give me a quick synopsis of what the Challenge meant to him. His remarks from 2008 are posted below:

Hi Paul,

Jim Neville Finished in Third Place in the Over 50 Category in 1999
Thank you for being persistent, and sorry I have not had a chance to get to my emails very frequently to respond to you. To have an interview is going to be tough but I want to respond to you on my thoughts of the Challenge by email. Where do you start, 16 years is a long time. I got so that I was fast enough to be competitive but not fast enough to be in the elite, needless to say, it was a great career, my only regret is I wish you would have come up with it sooner. I am going to retire this year 08 with 29 yrs, we are in the process of getting things moved, so it is a very busy time.

The Challenge has been nothing but positive for my career. It has been a tool to help me stay focused on my job. Career advancement from firefighter/paramedic, Lieutenant, District Chief, to college from 2-year junior college, 4-year Bachelors in Fire Science, 2 year Masters in Management Degree. I think I told you I had written a number of papers through out my college career on the Challenge, and do you think that I could find one of them, cause I would send one to you, they got to be packed away in one of these boxes somewhere, but what I can tell you is that I got A's on them.

The Challenge has helped me to stay fit and to see the value of physical fitness for the rest of my life. It helped me to survive in New Orleans (Slidell) for three weeks without much sleep, once again the value of physical fitness. I qualified for the finals that year and I wanted to compete real bad, but the priority was New Orleans, that‘s our job.

The Crüe- what can I say, they are the best. If there is anything that I can say or do to help them get a raise then so be it cause they are so well worth it. The 16 years I have competed they have been very professional and have worked very hard at the different sites to keep the show going, my hats off to them. Rick Payne, John Forsberg, these guys took me under their wing when I was competing by myself, both former competitors and lifelong friends, they exemplify the true challenge spirit and the fire service. Clint Lamb a great competitor and friend. Bill Edwards a southern boy that gets after it and I'm proud to know him. Rex- what can I say about Rex, It is an honor to know him. To watch him work tirelessly and with passion at this last Finals was truly inspirational to me; he is truly the mouthpiece for the challenge and my lifelong friend.

Now to get down to what this email is all about. The Firefighter Combat Challenge has passed all barriers, Age, Race, Gender, (18-60+), (Brown, White, Black), (Male, Female),  (Short-Tall), anyone who steps onto the course my hat goes off to them and I would be proud to work right along side everyone of them.

The Challenge inspires confidence (I can do this and my time can get faster) from competitors and hope (maybe if I get out of the Barco lounger and improve my physical fitness, maybe it will be a lifelong health habit improvement for me) for would be competitors. The Challenge has helped the public and village employers to accept, hey he's 60+, he or she is short, hey that's a female, and what's the difference if he or she is black, white or brown because they are proving they can do it, and as a competitor you don't see any barriers because you understand the training and commitment it takes to compete.

Paul excuse me for rambling, but I get a little passionate about the Challenge, and excuse the spelling cause my spell check doesn't work and my dictionary is in a box somewhere.

The Challenge is raising it another notch and I am proud to have known you and to have been a part of it.

God's speed my friend and Happy New Year

Jim Neville