Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Firefighter Combat Challenge: Not Just about Fitness

By Jason Martino
Palm Beach County Fire/Rescue

The Firefighter Combat Challenge is not just about fitness. It’s not just about getting into shape for a competition that revolves around the tasks associated with the fire service. It’s not fake firefighting or firefighting for people who can’t handle the real thing. I heard those words several times over the 7 years, as I competed in the FFCC with my team from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and Local 2928.

What it is about, is dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood, and family. It’s about getting the best tricks of the FFCC passed down to you from the ones that competed before. Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly the same thing that is done in the fire service.

It all came together for me when I attended this year’s Orlando Fire Conference. I was sitting toward the front of the conference room listening to both Chief Bob Hoff, Chicago Fire Dept. (retired), Asst. Chief Carol Stream (IL) FD, published author, Chief Rick Kolomay, and Carol Stream (IL), another published author. All were speaking about how they viewed leadership in the fire service. They spoke about how everyone has a story, and how those stories could and should benefit the people who come after you. They shared personal stories about what happened to them along their careers, and how they learned from one another.

It wasn’t until they showed a video of the 1985 Chicago Bears, (Super Bowl Champs), that something clicked within me. It was a video that portrayed their passion for the game, as well as how they worked together as a team. The hours they spent training, as well as their dedication, sacrifice, and teamwork in addition to the brotherhood and family foundation they had. I’ll ask you again, sound familiar?

All of this started to sink in over the next few days of the conference. It was one of those things that you think and talk about at these conferences, over a couple of beers. The way I approached the FFCC was the same way people approached the fire service. The fire service is set in dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, training, brotherhood and family. The very same values I used to describe the FFCC.

For me it rang true 2010, when the FFCC team I was on won the National title, as well as the World Championship title. It was the first time in the history of the FFCC that that had occurred. It was only possible because of the values mentioned about that ring true in both the FFCC and the fire service. It also happened due to the people that had come before us and passed down their advice and experiences.

My fire department had a team in the early days of the FFCC, and they were good. They had won medal upon medal and accomplished so much. They were doing more than winning in those days, they were laying the foundation and contributing to the history of the Palm Beach County Local 2928 FFCC team. They were making mistakes on the course and learning from them. They would take those mistakes, readjust things and put them into practice. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but all along the way they were laying the tracks for us new guys. Passing down their knowledge and the gold nuggets they learned along the way. As the older guys started to step aside, the young guys took over the team.

Just like in the fire service, when the older guys retire, the young guys take over. Like the fire service, the new guys take what the old guys pass down to them and put it into action. That’s exactly what we did. We took the advice of the old guys and how they took on the FCC, and put it into action.

Not everyone can be a firefighter, as it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. However, if you can cut it, it is the best and most rewarding job in existence. I don’t say this lightly when I say that you should be in shape to do this job. You don’t have to be in FFCC shape, but you need to be in good shape to do the job properly.

The FFCC is the same way, not anyone can do it. You have to be a firefighter to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re a volunteer, paid, forestry, aircraft, or industrial firefighter. All that matters is that you are a firefighter and you are in good shape.

The first time you run the whole course, you’ll know what kind of shape you are in. Just like the first time you run a fire in full gear, breathing compressed air, pulling a line or hoisting some tools, you’ll know what shape you are in.

The fire service changes over time, and so did the FFCC. As we got closer as a team, we became brothers. We trained, we had dedication, and our families sacrificed time away from us so we could train and compete. We had guys on the team that specialized in some components of the FFCC. We had Mac, the technical guy. He knew where we should place our hands on the rail as we ran up the stairs, and how we should use our weight to come down the stairs faster. We had Lee, who knew about products. He suggested which compression pants we should wear, and had input on our diet. We had Aaron, our logistics guy, who made sure that everything from hotel rooms to the entry fees were taken care of. We had Jacques, he was the old man of the group, (senior Jake). He had been around with the older guys, but stuck around a few extra years. He had advice from earlier experiences in years past, and he was constantly pushing us. So much sometimes, it was aggravating. And then there was me. The liaison between the team, the Department and the Union. I was also the spokesman, (PIO) of the group.

I could go on and on about what each of us put into our FFCC team, but it had the same components of the successful Chicago Bears team of 85, as well as the same components of a successful fire company. A successful fire company has guys that are utilized in the area that they are best in, as well as what is best for the company. A successful company is dedicated, they sacrifice if needed, they understand the need for teamwork and training. They understand and “GET” brotherhood and the importance of family. Not just the family at the firehouse, but the family we leave behind every morning.

Just like I didn’t want to let my brothers on the FFCC team down, I didn’t want to let my brothers down at the firehouse. Just like any successful fire company, times change and people get promoted or take other assignments. The same was true with our team.

Although we don’t compete in the FFCC anymore, we all have moved on to different types of challenges in our life. Some have started a family, some are studying for promotion, and others are off serving our country. As I reflect on our FFCC memories it makes me smile to know what we accomplished together. But just like any successful fire company we all have great memories and have new friends from all over the country. We stay in touch and get together every now and then. If any of us need anything, we are all there for each other. The success of our team is a good example of what a successful fire company is comprised of.

As I see it, my FFCC team had all the components of the successful 85 Bears, as well as a successful fire company.

For those who told me along the way that the FFCC was fake firefighting, I say you are wrong. Dead Wrong. 

Stay safe, train hard, stay dedicated.
Captain Jason Martino

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