Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why We Test

To my knowledge, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is the only sport in the public safety sector that conducts drug testing. We do this not because it is easy or that we even want to do it. We do it because people who cheat undermine the very ethos of what we’re all about.

Drugs in sport has permeated professional and scholastic ranks for decades. With seemingly so much on the line, people are willing to cut corners or cheat to win. In the Tour d’France, it’s virtually impossible to win without the aid of a pharmacopeia of supplements. One wonders if baseball will ever really recover from the abuses of the past.

In our sport, it’s not money, but the prestige of the fire service that’s at stake. Professional athletes have publicly rejected the notion that they serve in any capacity as a role model. Like it or not, Firefighters are held to a higher standard. People allow us, even command us to enter their premises when they’re not there. We are afforded a level of confidence that’s a sacred bond. And in all but the most infrequent of circumstances we meet their expectations.

In our early years, we tried the voluntary compliance route; i.e., “I affirm by my signature...” Regrettably, that did not work. Testing appears to be the only true remedy. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify.” A drug might be legally prescribed, but might also be a banned substance for the purposes of sport.

And so, we will at considerable expense continue to test at the World Challenge and other random locations. Presently, we’re revisiting the protocols for sample accessions and the consequences for violation. Again, it is your responsibility to know what you’re taking. Labels on some products can be misleading or downright inaccurate. There are respected brands that have submitted samples for assays and have posted bonds to validate the purity of their products.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hose and Nozzles

This is the first in a series of BlogSpots that will be written in response to the survey that was extended to all of our Challenge Competitors. We greatly appreciate your input and expressions of interest. Please feel free to add your comments and questions.

All-American Hose
Four or five individuals commented on the hose provided by our new sponsor, All-American Hose who joined us on short notice at the end of the 2011 season. The respondents thought that we should have announced that we were changing to another product.

While we welcomed All-American in Fort Pierce through a number of public address announcements, we did not make mention of their arrival on the website.

We were virtually out of attack hose and are overjoyed to have them on board. Yes, this hose is different; we just didn’t know how different. You think that attack line is pretty much a generic product, but we were wrong. The difference between All-American and other brands is that it’s a true 1.75” interior diameter- one of the few products that is as advertised. It’s also a lot tougher than any other product out there.

Over the course of a season, it was not unusual to go through 50+ sections of hose. At ≈$250/section, well, you do the math (it's ≈ $12,500). That's a pretty big line item for a consumable that never fought a fire. We're saving a lot of landfill space by using a product that's "green" in an unintended way: lasting far longer than any competitive product. 

The hose that we used in Myrtle Beach was first placed in service in Fort Pierce. It performed admirably. Admittedly the broom-finished concrete added significantly to the friction that was required to overcome in order to move quickly. That's going to happen no matter whose brand of hose we use. 

What is different about All-American Hose is the fact that it does not kink. Kinking accelerates the demise of the hose because wear-points quickly form and compromise the integrity of the hose. One bright spot is that we may no longer need the protective carpets where the hoses are staged. When we first employed them, our hose degradation was cut in half. 

We’re keeping tabs on the durability of this product and you should look for a major advertising campaign extolling the virtues of All-American. Right now, we’ve accumulated 99,525 dragging feet without a failure. That‘s for 1327 competitors over 9 days of competition. Impressive.

One competitor commented that the blue side target would not fall down. On reviewing the replay, we noted that hitting the oval with the FCC Trademark was never intended to trigger the slide. One must hit the fire target. In the C.A.B. meeting, one of the members remarked that the nozzle does not deliver a straight stream. That is correct; if you don't pull the bale all the way back, a ball cock nozzle will distort the spray pattern because there is not a straight line from the hose to the tip until the ball is fully opened. We place a quarter inch washer in the bore to restrict the volume, thereby reducing the potential for water on the course. 

The fastest competitors can open the nozzle, knock down the target and close it, all within 2 seconds. That burst of water takes less than 1 gallon, and perhaps even less. We maintain a constant pressure of 125 psi (≈3.5 bar) that allows reasonable precision, assuming that the operator aims at the right target and fully opens the bale. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beating the Grim Reaper

I just came across this study and couldn’t wait to share it with you. The article speaks for itself. Of course, in our crowd, I can see guys still running into their late 90’s!

Men Who Step Lively May Outpace Grim Reaper
Tongue-in-Cheek Study Determines the Reaper’s Walking Speed
By Cari Nierenberg WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD Dec. 15, 2011 --

Older men who walk at least 3 miles an hour need not fear the Reaper. They stay ahead of him and tend to outlive guys who move along at a slower pace, new research reveals. In the study, published in the Christmas issue of the journal British Medical Journal (BMJ), Australian scientists attempted to nail down the Grim Reaper's walking speed. (The usually straitlaced journal loosens up this time of year with offbeat scientific papers like this one.)

 While the Grim Reaper is a fictitious symbol of death, other studies have shown that how fast older people walk helps predict how long they may expect to live. Slower walking speeds in older age have been linked to a greater risk of death, while swifter strides have been associated with a longer life. Older men and women who can pick up the pace are likely healthier and fitter than adults who move more slowly.

So the Concord Hospital research team in Sydney set out to predict the pace of the skeletal figure in the long black robe. By knowing this, they reasoned, they'll find out how fast men need to hoof it to stay out of the Reaper's grasp. To do this, they looked at data from more than 1,700 healthy Australian men who were 70 or older. Roughly half of them were born in Australia, about 20% were Italian, and the rest came from other countries. Each man was asked to walk at their usual pace for about 20 feet. They were clocked twice over this distance with their best time recorded.

During the five-year study, 266 men died. When the researchers looked at the walking speeds of these men, they were able to estimate the pace of the cloak-shrouded Reaper. They suspect he's likely to catch up to those fellows who amble along at about 1.8 miles an hour or less.

"We predict that this is the likely speed at which the Grim Reaper prefers to [walk] under working conditions," write the researchers. Their results also found that older men who could walk faster than 2 miles an hour were 1.23 times less likely to meet up with death. But the men who had the biggest leg up on the Reaper were those with the quickest steps. All 22 of the men who walked at a pace of at least 3 miles an hour were still alive five years later. "The faster speeds are protective against mortality because fast walkers can maintain a safe distance from the Grim Reaper," say the researchers in a news release.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kamloops, Eh?

Not everyone has heard of Kamloops. And I would have attached no special significance to the place had my wife and I not driven through it on the way back from Alaska four years ago.

I even got a sort of strange going over from the Immigration Officer at the Vancouver Airport when he asked me my destination last Tuesday; “Kamloops” I replied. After a considerable pause, he remarked, “...Why?” (This is not to say that I was oblivious to the concept of a team from there, but had not yet met the individuals that comprised that team.)

Actually, they’ve got a great ski resort just a half hour outside of town: Sun Peaks. Shawn Davidson and I spent Wednesday on the slopes and we took video with my iPhone. Shawn was a ski patroller there during his idle youth and hasn’t lost much of his fearless skills. You can check us out on (( He’s the very fast guy.

Thursday, there was a very special presentation of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge World Championship Trophy in the Kamloops Convention Center (a place with an arena large enough to hold an event).

All the city government department heads and key personnel were present to observe the presentation of the trophy. I made some very complimentary remarks about the dedication and hard work that it takes to come out on top. We had a great buffet lunch following, and I also did a stand-up interview for their local TV station. The piece aired twice and I believe that we’ll be getting a copy.

Later in the afternoon, I visited the number one station and looked at their training course- the hose tower and front apron. The guys in the hall were very complimentary of the TV and were planning to get an AppleTV for next year’s broadcast.

Later that night the team took me out for a great dinner at Earl’s and I spent time talking mostly to Graham Mackenzie. He had completed the survey and provided me with some comments on subjects that I was not aware of. That’s one of the great things about feedback. We can’t think of everything and the competitors have a perspective that is different from our own.

So Kudos to Graham Mackenzie, Don Clarke, Mike Brown, Scott Leslie, Shawn Davidson and Mark Brise for a job well done. This has been a journey of significant perseverance.

So, over the next week or so, I’m going to provide my responses to your feedback. This is the relentless pursuit of perfection, or at least perfection that we can afford!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We’ll Be Right Back After This Message

For the first time in our 20 year history, we broadcasted the entire World Challenge XX competition via Livestream. Well, that’s not quite accurate. For the past two years we ran a stationary camera and a chat line.

Thanks to the contributions of Lion, this year we invested a lot of resources to bring you a live show that was worthy of Primetime. With two fixed cameras, two tethered shooters and a jib, all directed by 8-time Emmy winner Rick Lewis, the show had the look and feel of an ESPN production. Matter of fact this is very similar to the show that we produced for one of our ESPN telecasts using a production truck.

The numbers of viewers were impressive. We had a total of 757,337 total viewer minutes- that’s thirty times last year’s total. There were 42,371 US streams; 11,461 in Canada, Germany: 5,601; Slovenia 2,812; France 624 and New Zealand 507.

Right now, you can go to to view archival footage. All of the broadcast has been backed up on a 2TB hard drive and we’ll begin the process of editing the segments into clips for uploading on YouTube as well as some special features such as “Bloopers of the Challenge” and a highlight reel.

This is tedious work and will take some time, but hey- we’ve got five plus months before the season starts anew.

The really good news is the numbers of subscribers. We had viewers from around the world. The compliments that we’ve received warm the cockles of my heart and inspire us to add even more content and features next year. The Air Force Academy, Elgin and Warren produced vignettes on their teams and we encourage more of these kinds of features for next year’s show.

Maria Prekeges who is a familiar face on a number of ESPN shows conducted nearly 50 interviews. We’re going to make some changes to the placement of our loud speakers so that you’ll be able to hear her better. We’d like to hear from you- about anything you liked, didn’t like or wanted to see. This is the time that we start planning for next season.

I can guarantee you that there will be commercials; that’s how free TV works. This grand experiment had some significant costs; but now that we’ve proved the worth, as they say, “well be right back after this message.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Count Down to WCXX

The purpose of this BlogSpot is to get out in front of the questions that typically arise before, during and after the World Challenge. If this is your first World Challenge event, congratulations! If you’re returning, welcome back. After last year’s highly successful competition, we’re following our format for last year. The Wildcard Eliminations start without fanfare at 9AM (0900 EST), Monday through Thursday, November 14-17.

The Venue: Broadway at the Beach
All of the activity will take place on the parking lot at Broadway at the Beach. The landmark is the Hard Rock Cafe. We have rotated the orientation of the tower by 180°. This will provide even sunlight and reduce shadows. The Keiser Force Machines now have heated trays, thereby eliminating any differences in the coefficient of friction caused by temperature. This system has been in use for the season and has expunged complaints about red versus blue side differences. There is ample room for “camping out” with your pop-up and lawn chairs. This is one of the huge benefit over Las Vegas- a topic that I will address in an upcoming Blog.

Rule Change: Finish Standing
There is a rule change since last year on hand-held timing. Competitors are required to finish standing up. They must stop the clock by dragging the feet of the Rescue Randy® across the threshold. Lunging backwards is a dangerous and highly discouraged practice. It also damages the SCBA units and tears the carpets. And most importantly, it does not get you a faster time since it is the position of the dummy’s feet and not the torso of the Competitor that counts. Subsequently, we implemented a penalty of 2 seconds to be added to the Competitor’s time when a Competitor fails to stop the clock. Everyone that has ever been involved in a sprint sport knows that lunging or jumping interrupts terminal velocity.

Benefits of a Controlled Race
This has had an immediate benefit in reducing the number of finish line crashes and the associated ambiguities as to who actually won the race (i.e., we no longer have to have a conference of officials to look at hand-held stop watches to decide an outcome). Since its inception, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge® has had in place the same timing paradigm and technology for measuring races. In an attempt to promote a safer playing field and consistency across all the nationalities that are licensed to conduct competitions, we will appreciate your cooperation and adherence to the protocol of running under control. Clayton County, who broke the World Record with a blistering 1:07, finished standing and even put the dummy on the transporter cart. If that doesn’t validate what I’m saying, then I don’t know what else will convince you. Well, actually the 2-second penalty might do it.

Wildcard Eliminations
The Eliminations have become highly competitive. While we like to boast that this is “The Toughest Two-Minutes in Sports™” the fact is that you’ll need a time significantly faster than two minutes to make it in the open category on the final day. An oft-heard complaint is directed at teams that make it with people who are significantly slower than two minutes. Our clear preference is directed to qualifying teams on the basis of their fastest three times. Everyone on that team is treated equally; they all get a pass. Historically, individuals who were predicted to have their time counted in the top three have had a bad run, resulting in a fourth member of the team contributing his time. Just as all members of the World Series team earn a ring, so likewise do the members of the winning team. Please don’t gripe about this structure. Get a team together and you can likewise collectively earn a spot on the final day. Simply stated, we just don’t have enough slots for everyone that’s sub-whatever to race on the final day. We have opened up sufficient individual slots to ensure that there is a fair representation within all the categories to guarantee that even a person not on a team has a chance to take first place.

International Growth
It is our quest to create a truly international competition. I cannot say with certainty how long it will take to achieve critical mass of say, 25 nations fielding teams, but ultimately, the World Challenge will be comprised of only one team from each country. The event may also move to another continent. And what is now the World Challenge will become the US Nationals. Until that day, we afford our foreign visitors byes into the final round because they have earned these slots through competition in their native land. This is difficult for some Competitors to accept as they feel that the final day should be based solely on merit, and not based upon the country of origin. We subscribe to the Olympic model, even at this early stage of our competition. If we want more foreign teams- and we do, then this is a reasonable concession. To this end, we opened up the number of US slots so as not to deprive the truly outstanding athletes an opportunity to compete. The practical reality is that we can’t run an 8-hour competition. Next year, we will be holding events in Germany, Canada, France, Austria, Brazil, New Zealand and Slovenia. All of these competitions welcome you. We hope that you’ll appreciate the hospitality and camaraderie that is extended by this rapidly expanding international brotherhood.

The March On
There will be a formal march on of all the states, provinces and countries on the last day (Saturday). We will play the national anthem of the host nation only. This not meant as a slight to any person or peoples; but from a practical and protocol perspective, we will follow Olympic traditions.

This year will be providing a professionally produced Livestream broadcast. Last year we had over 25,000 viewers with no promotion other than word of mouth. You’ll be able to watch live- on your computer every day’s activities including post race interviews and analyses. Lion is the presenting sponsor and we extend our thanks to them and our other sponsors for making this possible. This will be of great benefit as you’ll have a sense as to where we are in the start order by viewing the home page. A word of warning, however. You are still responsible for showing up on time. Not unlike the Olympics, we have had to disqualify people for being no-shows.

In Summary...
I trust that this information is of benefit. I also hope that the people who need to read this will avail themselves of the opportunity to realize that there is a bigger purpose behind the growth of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge than to satisfy everyone’s ego.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Let’s Hear It for the Old Guys

This past weekend in Fort Piece was a homecoming for a lot of Challenge veterans. In one of the over 50 relay races, these competitors boasted over 500 years of collective life experience. I had some quality time talking to Walter White who’s been with the Challenge since its inception. He’s seen his original department, American River morph into Sac Metro. Walter is now a Battalion Chief and is running solo. At one time, American River was a national threat. It seems as though the younger generation doesn’t have the same mental toughness as the old guys. We’ll talk more about this and expand on Walter’s particular insights on the Challenge and the fire service in an upcoming blog. (BTW, Challenge veterans, have you ordered your patch yet- it’s on this link:

But, in the meantime, what was very interesting were the comments of the course volunteers. Indian River State College provided some of the best support we’ve seen so far this season. Comprised of instructors, staff and students the red shirts made the event run like clockwork. It was as though they had been training for this event for some time. A recurring topic of discussion was the respect and admiration for our over 50 crowd. This indelible image of real, tough guys who were posting impressive times was not lost on the spectators.

Our announcer, Mike Word would point out many of the accomplishments of these grizzled veterans, never failing to mention their ages. For recruits, what better example could be made of firefighters in the twilight of their careers still able to run the course in blistering times. This does not happen by accident.

For the better part of 9 years, I wrote a column for Fire Chief magazine. In one such article, I facetiously remarked that we should eliminate PT (physical training) from the recruit curriculum. Actually, I was half serious. After all, why should it be management’s responsibility to rehabilitate you to get the job that you should have been prepared to do the day you walked in the door.

If you had not been maintaining your fitness on your own time, what makes us think that you’re suddenly going to have a change of heart and start working out once you’re actually hired to do one of the toughest jobs in America today? A recent anecdote makes my point. Larry Hinds had suggested that climbing an aerial should be a routine drill for everyone. After all, this is an essential function of being a firefighter. The chief pushed back, knowing full well that a significant number of incumbents were physically incapable of performing the task. He’s still looking at it.

Hard to believe that we can take seriously the mantra, “everyone goes home” when in fact, a lot of these people should stay home. And it’s even worse that we know we have the problem and won’t do anything constructive to address the huge, looming problem of a workforce that is unsafe at any speed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Overcash Award

If you haven’t met Ted Overcash by now, you’ve missed out on one of the great benefits of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. Ted is now 66. He’s been a fixture for years, although he’s slowed down a bit, he’s still alive and kicking.

Ted hasn’t set any records recently, although he and I held the over 60 Tandem record for about a year. But Ted would come out and run the course, time after time and year after year. His times would slowly work their way down as he trained and trained.

Ted is not a very big guy. He stands about 5’5”, weighting around 160. But Ted has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve seen. From the beginning in 199#, he struggled mightily, to the point that he scared me. But he would never give up.

Some years back, Ted was diagnosed with cancer. In his characteristic style, he battled back and became a cancer survivor.
He found out that he had a tumor in 2002, weeks after receiving the first GNC award in Deerfield Beach.
In May 2003 he ran his first Challenge 11 weeks after surgery.

In the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, we have a number of World Champion awards that are sponsored by Lion and named after our fallen comrades. We decided that while this was a proper way to honor their memory, why not name an award after one of our competitorsbefore they died? How much more fitting?

And so, the Overcash Award for the person who accrues the most points was created. Ted has been present to make the award for a number of years. Recently in Tinley Park, he asked me if we were still going to give out the award and would it be named after him?

“Of course,” I responded. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.“

Ted seemed pleased. So, if you’re in Myrtle Beach and see Ted, stop for a moment and let him tell you a little bit about his life’s journey. It’s always a great perspective to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a cancer survivor; just ask Ted.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge?

In 1984, I was running a company called Institute of Human Performance. We provided occupational health services to a variety of local and federal government emergency service organizations. The backbone of our business was a mainframe computer manufactured by Data General (DG). It was the size of two side-by-side refrigerators and required its own climate-controlled room. My 250MB Fujitsu Eagle drive for my DG cost over $10,000 and was so heavy that a small forklift was required to move it. One the features we provided our police and firefighters were computer generated customized health and fitness reports and individualized exercise prescriptions.

A friend of mine with a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Maryland introduced me to the Macintosh computer. I had dismissed his entreaties to test-drive his for months. Finally succumbing, I told my wife that I’d be heading over to Phil’s house and would be back in an hour.

I was of the opinion that this could not be a real computer because there were not shelves of manuals required to document everything. Five hours later, I was still exploring and amazed at a computer that had no manuals and a mouse. That Sunday changed my life and the pathway of my company. I went to Sears the next day and purchased a Mac. They were over $2,500, with a whopping 1MB of Ram and no hard drive. From that point, we never looked back. We dumped the Data General and assembled a number of connected Macs.

One of the immediate uses was a contract with the US Navy. I wrote their fitness manual and produced 18 Command Fitness Coordinator certification programs, hauling my 22-pound Mac cube with me around the world. All of this was done with floppy disks!

The ability to create graphics, typeset technical reports, edit video was all within our grasp, and best of all, in-house. It has had a profound impact on every nuance of what we have done over the past 27 years. Steve Jobs’ death at 56 is a tragedy. His contributions to society are staggering. The productivity that we as a company have gained is enormous.

Steve went out on top; he created the world’s most valuable company and has been vindicated and richly rewarded. But the sad, sad part of this whole story is that there is no amount of money that he would not have spent to have his health back.

Isn’t amazing how people can easily disregard or fail to appreciate the very precious gift of life. Like the words of the song, “…you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Life can be cruel. I have no idea as to what Steve’s health and fitness habits were. And maybe, he was one of those statistical flukes, where he did everything right and still got run over by the cancer bus.

But, there are a lot of things that we do know about that contribute to health and the avoidance of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Taking responsibility for our behavior is what makes us good animals. Right now, a disproportionate number of our population are on a collision course with diabetes. There will not be enough money to take care of the huge epidemic that is approaching. And this condition is avoidable and remediable by simply moving more.

I sometimes wonder if some people are just plain predestined to end up as casualties? Warnings screaming from cigarette packages in 24pt type: Smoking Kills! “This is a free country!” they respond. Were it only so; someone’s going to pay. I just don’t want it to be me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Still Need Proof?

One of the sixteen initiatives for reducing line of duty deaths (LODD) in the “Everyone Goes Home” campaign is physical fitness. What troubles me about this program is the mouthing of a platitude without any real follow up. It’s like dental hygiene: don’t have to floss every day; just those teeth that you’d like to keep. By that I mean we continue to preach about the need, but really don’t follow up with standards.

In a study conducted by Harvard University School of Public Health and published today in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, men who engaged in vigorous exercise had their risk of fatal heart attack cut by 22%.

“We studied vigorous exercise because of its stronger association with coronary heart disease,” said Andrea Chomistek, Sc.D., the lead author of the study. “While we discovered that vigorous-intensity exercise decreases a man’s risk of heart attack, we also were able to partially determine why. The benefits of exercise on a man’s levels of HDL-C, or ‘good’ cholesterol, account for approximately 38 percent of that decrease. Other important markers included vitamin D, apolipoprotein B and hemoglobin A1c.”

There were 18,225 men who participated in the study, of which 454 suffered a nonfatal heart attack or died from CHD (coronary heart disease) during the 1994-2004 data collection window. After the 10-year period, 412 men with CHD were matched to controls based upon age, smoking status and their date for providing a blood sample.

“As expected, traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors were more common among cases than controls,” said Chomistek. “Men who suffered a nonfatal heart attack or died from coronary heart disease had less ‘good’ cholesterol, more ‘bad’ cholesterol and were more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.”

The study, “Vigorous Physical Activity, Mediating Biomarkers, and Risk of Myocardial Infarction,” is published in this month’s issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official journal of ACSM.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks heart disease as the nation’s leading cause of death among men. Between 70 and 89 percent of all sudden cardiac events occur in men, and nearly half of men who have a heart attack before age 65 die within eight years. And of course, heart disease continues to lead the list of LODDs for firefighters.

None of this really comes as a surprise. But regrettably, until we actually start to recruit and select the most fit- people who have a real penchant towards fitness being a priority, we’ll continue to see the results of sedentary living.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“Our Fathers Fought the Second World War”

This familiar refrain written by Billy Joel (from the hit song Allentown) came to mind today as I and hundreds of other grateful people at BWI airport stood and applauded for the nearly 25 minutes that it took to unload the arriving Southwest Airlines flight that conveyed scores of Second World War veterans from Detroit. We were occupying ourselves with the usual activities of checking emails, surfing the net when the gate agent announced that an honor flight of WWII vets were on the in-bound flight. Would we all welcome them? Would we?

But of course! Flags were handed out and a squad of sailors in dress whites formed up a alley. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stood and started clapping and kept clapping as though each of these grizzled and some stooped figures were a member of our own families. Hundreds of travelers came together and proudly gave every aged veteran their undivided attention. Travelers were wiping tears from their eyes at the incredible sight.

Statistics about WWII vet mortality are bantered about, like 30,000 WWII vets are dying every month. Just a few months ago, Frank Buckles, the last surviving WWI veteran passed away at the age of 110. Based on that model, statistically, there will still be a few more WWII vets left for some years to come (a GI of 17 in the last year of the war, 1945- living to be 110 would die in 2038).

All paid for by private donations, the honor flight contingent would be loaded onto buses and taken to Washington, DC to view the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. Then, they would be flown home to stay in their own beds. Many of these heroes were in wheelchairs. I noticed that the captain of the SWA flight ferried several of the vets off the flight. We all forgot about the fact that the plane was about 90 minutes late due to mechanical problems. That minor distraction quickly paled in comparison to the awesome experience of watching these venerable warriors embracing the experience. The smiles on their faces, the waves and salutes were rewarded with more intense clapping, cheering, whistling and flag waving.

This episode seemed in so many ways, foreign to cacophony of partisan politics and all the divisive vitriol that spews daily from TV, print media and zinger emails. For a short half hour of the day, we shared common values and a sense of pride for what these veterans had done for us.

It made me very proud to be an American and the son of a now deceased WWII submariner. I just wished that Dad could have been there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ah, Rest!

After slogging on for an unprecedented 12-week, no break stint, Time Off! Some of you Challenge addicts might be in withdrawal, but the hard-working members of the Crüe welcome the time of respite.

One of the most overlooked components of physical training is rest. It’s an integral part of the General Adaption Syndrome (GAS). I continue to believe that a large number of our die-hards still adhere to the adage: No Pain, No Gain. No one ever got fit without sweat. There is no magic pill or plug-in the wall thing that’s going to take the place of the Work Out. But muscles require rest to recover.

Pain is nature’s way of telling you to back off. DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) comes from microscopic tears in the cellular fabric of muscle cells. Leakage follows with edema, putting pressure on nerve cell endings. Extreme workouts can give rise to rhabdomyolsis, a potentially lethal condition where protein leaks out of the cells and interferes with the ability of the kidneys to process urea. We’ll talk more about rhabdo in an upcoming Blog.

But, back to the rest thing. Periodization is the process of allowing certain muscle groups to recover between workouts. For a muscle to gain strength, it must be stressed beyond the usual daily loading. Power, not to be confused with strength quickly becomes refractory to improvements after fatigue. Depending upon the severity of the workout, one day might not be enough. With advancing age, your recovery curve becomes a lot longer. Ah, the benefits of youth.

Regrettably, without the ability to look at blood serum enzymes, it’s difficult to know where you are. Staleness has some subjective cues, like “how do you feel?” Listening to your body takes some time. If you’re rolling out of the rack in the AM and feel sore and stiff, you’re not ready to pound your body into some kind of submission.

The major risk of overtraining is a susceptibility to connective tissue injury. Muscles can also tear, but because they’re heavily vascularized, they heal quickly, especially if you help out with rest and ice. Anti-inflammatories like Motrin are effective. Tendons and ligaments take a lot longer to repair because they have very little blood flow.

I think it would be interesting to look at our injury rates for this sport and compare them to say, softball. I think that we’re well ahead of that cohort. But it does trouble me when I hear of injuries to our competitors, regardless of where the injury took place. Sometimes its doing an innocuous activity that you would never guess had any risk- like walking up stairs.

The Sportsmedicine model of active rest and light range of motion activity has been proven to greatly accelerate the recovery period. No one who’s doing anything active is going to escape musculoskeletal injuries. We just want to be smart about it and remember that rest is the missing variable in a lot of workout routines.

From Whence Came the Challenge?

For the uninitiate (a person unfamiliar with a specific topic or subject) upon first seeing the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, the likely question: “What is this and where did it come from?“ Good questions, both.

Back in the dark ages of personnel selection, fire chiefs believed that big(ger) people tended to excel at the avocation. Ergo, there were minimum height and weight standards. No one considered that women would ever want a career in this most male of occupations. Disparate impact was an unfamiliar term in those days. So, in 1975, Chief David Gratz who was the director of fire-rescue service for Montgomery County (MD) and Dr. Leonard Marks paid us a visit at the Sports Medicine Center of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, Department of Kinesiology. They wanted to know if there was a way to measure what it took to, for example, climb a ladder and chop a hole in a roof. “Sure,” we remarked.

FEMA was still a distant gleam in someone’s eye, but the formation of what would become the National Fire Administration was gaining some traction. This new agency under the Department of Commerce would have money to fund research. A research proposal was cobbled together and submitted with the backing of our US Senator, J. Glen Beall. For the modest sum of $87,216 we embarked on a project that would become the first study to link empirically physical performance constructs with simulated job tasks for structural firefighters.

One-hundred greater Washington area firefighters were randomly selected by age and political jurisdiction strata and underwent laboratory-based tests for aerobic and anaerobic kinetics as well as other demographic data. The results were correlated against performance on a series of linked fire ground evolutions. Technically, we used mutliple-regresson and canonical correlation to create a model of success. In other words, a profile of fitness that could predict performance on frequently performed, non-skill dependent, arduous fire suppression tasks.

The Criterion Tasks were nominated by the Training Officers subcommittee of the COG Fire Chiefs Committee. These tasks were corroborated through surveys and have been replicated in numerous jurisdictions across the US. The objective was to focus on a core of Essential Functions that were ubiquitous to the fire service, much like hanging a door would be for carpentry. Local jurisdictions might feel strongly that they would want to add logical accessories such as the ability to swim where water was a part of the first due equation.

Morphing into what would ultimately become the Essential Functions Test (EFT), hundreds of fire departments across the nation in the early 90’s were signing on for the use of the “Combat Test” as a selection, or in some cases, retention test. In 1991 we held our first Washington, DC Council of Governments (COG) sponsored competition at the Maryland Fire-Rescue Institute. Never intended as a race, but rather as a personnel selection instrument, the EFT received kudos as being age and sex neutral (in other words, age and sex were not factors in scoring). But, you know how firefighters can be and speed to completion ignited a game.

The general premise in personnel selection is that your natural abilities can take you wherever you wish to go. The Constitution of the United States affords you with equal opportunity. The results are on you. This called the Merit System- the novel idea of hiring people based upon objective data.

With the rapidly ascending popularity of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, the major focus of our efforts became the fine tuning of an International Sports competition. For several years, the great unanswered question was, “Can someone actually do this under 2:00?” Mind you, most firefighters would walk through the course in around five minutes. The very practical application of the EFT has been overshadowed by the 10-year run on ESPN, and the 20-years of a 24-stop annual US tour. There are still departments that require their personnel to walk through the course each year. The measurable benefits are increased safety by reducing line-of-duty musculo-skeletal injuries by fielding a fit workforce. Sounds like a plan to me. No one in our shop ever thought that these insane times would become the de rigueur.

Hopefully, this little tutorial might clear up some misconceptions that continue to linger on the still current and compelling need for physically fit firefighters.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bottoms Up

The number of heat records set this summer have shattered many that have stood for decades. It’s estimated that over 200M people were affected this year. All the while, the mighty Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge has bravely soldiered on. On a positive note, we’ve had one transport- an individual who admitted self medicating with Creatine.

I hear a lot of comments from spectators that it must be brutal wearing all that gear. And it is- if you had to wear it for periods longer than a few minutes. Fortunately, the time on the course does not add appreciably to the thermal load. The body has an amazing thermoregulatory system. Within a few minutes of maximum muscular contractions, core temperature can climb 1°C. We all know about the heat-injury-illness paradigm. Core temperatures of 104°F are consistent with heat stroke- except when it isn’t. Like in well conditioned athletes who can tolerate running a marathon with this range of core temperature without any consequences.

There is, however, a critical part of the equation: hydration. Your water on board has more to do with maintaining homeostasis than anything else. Even a well-conditioned athlete can’t make it without replacement. Another adaptation is retaining electrolytes. Well fit athletes lose less electrolytes than do unconditioned people.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade provide essential electrolytes as well as fuel. But these are poorly tolerated in the presence of arduous physical activity. I continually remind people that the thirst mechanism is about 20 minutes behind the power curve. In other words, but the time you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Sports drinks should be taken at least an hour before, and not again until the event is well over.

It’s rewarding to watch all the Challenge athletes walking around with their gallons of water. Proper hydration needs planning and you need to start the day before the event. Urine color is the best indices of your status. There is a risk of overdoing it and creating a condition of hyponatremia- where you’re losing electrolytes because you’re overwhelming your kidneys. While a rare phenomena, it can have grave consequences.

Staying out of the sun, ingesting about one pint per hour (to make up for insensitive fluid loss) is the preferred pre-race preparation. Training in the heat is the fastest way to become acclimatized to heat. But, the old adage: “everything in moderation” works every time. Oh yeah; and on the point of beer, it is not a good hydration source. You do not buy beer, you rent it. Alcohol will dehydrate you- before AND after the Challenge.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Motivates You?

I’ve been doing the Tuesday Night lecture thing at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD since the beginning of this year. If you’re not familiar with the EFO (Executive Fire Officer) program, check it out at

In this week’s lecture, I discussed fitness (of course) and the practical reality of maintaining a fit workforce when we really only have control over employees 10 days per month. Of course, the people reading this post are the very ones that “get it.” They understand that personal fitness is a personal responsibility and that duty extends beyond just the days that they’re clocked in.

As a card-carrying member and Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, I’m rightfully proud of the body of literature that has been amassed over the last five-plus decades. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed research studies on how to get fit, stay fit; benefits of being fit. But, from a practical perspective, we probably don’t apply 10% of what we know. What we’re missing is that link, the trigger that creates the desire to be all that you can be. To know that you have the physical capabilities to get the job done. The self-confidence that comes from knowing yourself.

Ayn Rand wrote: “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others." I would submit that this adage was never more in evidence than at the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. People who are unfamiliar with our sport marvel at the camaraderie. Now, if we could just somehow figure out how to bottle this stuff and vaccinate the rest of the fire service- now that would be something.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Up In the Air

After World Challenge XIX, we administered a survey to all attendees and an unprecedented 400+ responses were received. I read every single comment and am now responding to a minority, but important concern about costs to attend.

Since the critiques were not specific, I can only adjudge that complaints about expenses were driven by airfares, since lodging prices were ridiculously cheap. Mike Medeiros and I did a little study, looking at R/T airfares from several major cities. Myrtle Beach was a very reasonable destination with round trip fares less than $300 from a number of cities.

The caveat is, “when?”

Answer, “Now.” By that I mean that if you have qualified, or are pretty sure that you are going to qualify, this is a good time to start shopping for airplane tickets.

As a member of a number of airline award programs with over 4 million miles on one airline alone, I know a little bit about how these tariffs work. The idea is to fill every seat on the plane before departure. Once the plane leaves the gate, that seat is now worthless. Airlines have very sophisticated software programs that track sales for every flight. A 737 might carry 140 people, with very few of the passengers paying the same price for any given seat.

What we know is that typically, the lowest price point is a couple of months ahead of departure. The closer you get to departure, the more expensive the ticket. For example, we saw a price bump on a flight jump 400% over night. Apparently there was a push after we checked the fare and the next thing we knew, the demand had pushed the price through the roof. There are exceptions. For example, if a flight is not filling up and departure is within a day or so, they may drop the price. If you purchased a ticket for more than the cheaper price, you are entitled to a refund of the difference (on most airlines like Southwest).

Where all the carriers get you is for changes (except Southwest). So, be reasonably sure of your dates. I realize that this presents a bit of a risk. Cancellations on non-refundable tickets are exactly that: nothing. But you are allowed in most cases to rebook, at a “modest” fee of more than $100. (Except Southwest.) And, of course, they nick you for checked luggage. (Except Southwest.) This is why we are partial to a particular airline (Southwest).

Speaking of this airline, they fly to Charleston. And, you can rent cars and drive to M.B. Just one suggestion on how to make your bucks go further. We want everyone to optimize their cash by getting as far out ahead of World Challenge XX as possible- at the lowest possible price.

I hope this has been helpful. I’d like to hear of any deals, thoughts or suggestions you might have that can be shared with everyone. See you in Myrtle Beach this November.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Colorado Mountain High

Only someone who just arrived on the planet Earth would not know that increasing elevation impedes performance. It’s not that the percentage of oxygen is lower at higher elevation; it’s that the partial pressure (PP) of air is reduced the higher you go. Barometric pressure is what drives oxygen across the membrane of the alveoli and onto the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. The higher you go, the more “disbursed” or spread out are the molecules.

So, what are the implications for competing at altitude for the Challenge? And, doesn’t the SCBA help? Since many of the competitors run the course in less than 2 minutes, the energy requirements come from a breakdown of ATP to ADP, and from
ADP to AMP. These are energy bonds that do not require the presence of oxygen to create energy. But, the payback, or recovery system is aerobic. The positive pressure SCBA helps slightly, but everything is relative. Since the second stage regulator operates on a slight “delta” or difference above ambient, you’re not getting much of a boost.

Theoretically, if you could maintain the PP of sea level inside the face piece, altitude would not be a factor. On a similar note, I’ve written a short proposal on climbing Mt. Everest in a Scott SCBA. If you could keep your sea level atmosphere with you, you could scamper up the peak in short order since the distance and terrain from the last pitch is pretty much a walk in the park. What makes things so difficult is that every step. even on bottled oxygen represents a near-maximal contraction. So, even breathing 100% oxygen, you have only about one-third of the pressure driving the molecules across the alveoli’s membranes. Of course, switching out bottles presents the logistical challenge. You’ll need a lot of Sherpas.

Our recent experience in Vail (8000’ or 2438M) precipitated an acute metabolic acidosis response in everyone. While we claim the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge to be the “Toughest Two Minutes in Sports™” at sea level, it can be a real butt-kicker at elevations above ≈3500’.

We noted that about 30 competitors who played last year did not make the return trip this month. We think we get it. If you already have your ass kicked at sea level, imagine what altitude will do. Vail is a world-famous destination. Many of us have tagged a white water rafting trip to the event, or found other exciting forms of recreation. To keep this venue alive for the out years, we need to hear from you. We have a simple survey form that will help us better plan for the future.

Please follow this link to take this one-minute survey.

Maybe this venue should be exclusively the “Colorado Rocky Relay Championships”? Take just a few minutes and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's Drugs Got To Do With It?

The CBS 60 Minutes story on alleged doping by Lance Armstrong has spawned countless newspaper articles, several of which I have read. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I do have an opinion.

While at the University back in the ‘70’s, I had two graduate students who were on the US Olympic and Junior weight lifting team. At the time, the official position of such organizations as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) went something like this: “these attempts at enhancing performance through the use of drugs do not work.” All the while, the East Germans were kicking our collective asses.

I was administering IM (intra-muscular) legally prescribed anabolic steroids to these lifters and observing the addition of 30+ pounds of lean muscle mass in the matter of a few short months. So much for the official position of the scientific-medical community.

Fast forward forty years and we now are awash in an epidemic of ergogenic aids. Sports figures have gone to jail and more will follow. This was the era where rampant steroid use was in vogue in the NFL; while we were not testing at the time, (I was a consultant to the Washington Redskins for 8 years); many players had all the clinical manifestations of anabolics.

About a dozen years ago, one of my sports medicine physician friends remarked that we needed to start drug testing. This was validated by some of our competitors who were complaining about benefits that were not attributable to just working out. Naively believing that signing a waiver that included language to the effect that “I am not using any banned or illegal substances,” would do the job- and finding it not so, we started testing- to the strenuous objections of some competitors who were never seen again. A couple of my physician friends said that as an organized sport “You know you’ve made it when it becomes so important to win that you’re willing to cheat.“

At, or about that time, one of our standout competitors stated that he didn’t care if people used drugs; “let them do whatever they want,” he opined. I’m not sure he would have felt that strongly if he was routinely getting beat by someone that was obviously “on the sauce.”

With the advent of drug testing, we began to catch people. In fact, for a while, we were running an unbroken string of positive tests were in people who may have actually believed what they were taking was “clean.”

Most recently, we have not uncovered any users. The sophistication of drug testing spawns all sorts of counter measures, and so goes the vicious cycle.

I believe that some of the positive tests were in people who may have actually believed what was written on the labels of the products they were taking. There are so many products out there that the FDA simply can’t police the entire market. We have always maintained that it is the competitor’s responsibility for what they put in their body. Alternatively, there are products that bear the seal of a reputable testing laboratory.

A few years ago, I attended the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where drug testing was one of the scientific-legal topics. To be approved by the NFL, a supplement company has to post a $.5M bond. That pretty well separates the wheat from the chaff.

So, back to Lance. No one has even come close to his accomplishments, not the least of which was a near-death experience with cancer. No one has his physiology- the subject of a scientific session some years back at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. No one athlete has been subjected to the numbers of tests for drug use, and he has passed every one.

On the down side, with the resources available, you can be sure that there will never be a drug test, the results of which Lance did not know before. The “positive” test criteria is liberal and you can detect the presence of synthetic anabolic steroids. People have become educated on when to cycle off to ensure that their values are within “normal” limits.

It’s disturbing to see someone that you’ve admired for years be accused by eyewitnesses. In a sport where the likelihood of winning without pharmacological assistance is a remote possibility, claims that “he’s using” are to be expected. The practical reality is that if you don’t do what virtually everyone in cycling is doing, you’re not going to be a contender.

So, why not just say, “Screw it. Do what you want. We’ll lose a few people each year”- but wait- we’re already doing that. One of the major unintended consequences is that you’ve opened up the entire scholastic sport system to unmonitored use. We know that this is going on in high school, but who has the money to test? And without any semblance of illegality, the problems are magnitude.

A sports psychologist did a study on Olympic athletes, asking if they would be willing to take a pill that would ensure victory while cutting five years from their life. Most said “yes” they’d take the pill. It’s a shame that sport has become so contaminated. It’s also tragic that it has taken professional sports so long in the face of bitter adversity, to take a lead in enforcing a drug-free competition. It’s a shame that there are always a few bad apples that want to cut corners, be it banned substances or illegal gear. The relevant question is, “are we any better?” I hope so.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Men of a Certain Age

In 1974, my friend and fellow firefighter Willie Barreto and I swung our legs over our motorcycles and headed South for the University of Tennessee where the 20th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine was being held. My fascination with exercise science would take me on a intriguing and circuitous route. As a graduate student, funding for travel was always a challenge and the hospitality of the Knoxville Fire Department helped defray costs. There may have been 300 scientists at the meeting, but I was in sensory overload. Last week, I attended the 58th annual meeting in Denver. Over 6000 of the more than 25,000 members attended the five-day meeting.

Now a fellow and card-carrying member of the organization, I was looking for familiar faces in this sea of physicians, educators, researchers and all-around cool people. Their joie d’vie is infectious and the breath of knowledge was not unlike attempting to drink from a fire hose. But there are two members in particular that I was looking for: Dr. Jack Harvey, team physician for a bunch of Olympic, professional and scholastic sports, and my co-author of our book, Hard Work, Dr. Brian Sharkey.

Jack’s accomplishments both within his profession and his extra-mural activities could be the subject of a major motion picture. Over the past 20-plus years we’ve telly-skied, ran and mountain biked the Rockies- much to our mutual satisfaction. Jack was helpful in writing up our medical guidelines for treatment of Firefighter Combat Challenge competitors who were in over their head.

Brian, in addition to his tenure with the University of Montana has been intimately involved with health and fitness issues for the US Forest Service wildland firefighting community as well as the US Nordic Ski Team. As a research associate, he worked closely with me on my nearly six-year USMC project, conducting one of the most comprehensive, multi-environmental physiological overlay studies of of its kind. His professional contributions include the pack test, now a standard for getting your Red Card- the “good to go” benchmark for wildland firefighter.

The three of us would capture one of those rare opportunities to connect at Jack’s ranch and swap stories and reminisce over great food and adult beverages. Our recollections of events of the past become more woollier with each retelling. Our scars are like tattoos, but with more interesting stories.

The following day, I would head to Ontario for our fifth event of this season. Again, I would meet friends and Challenge competitors such as Walt White and John Walka who have been a part of the SFCC for 20 years! Incredible when you think about it. Participation in the Challenge can be a life-changing experience, as attested by one of this week’s competitors who lost over 30 pounds in his quest to find a new life.

In reflecting back upon the people who have helped in so many ways, I can say that the friends that I have made along the way are precious and valuable in so many ways. The collective energy of people who are winners is contagious. The common thread that seems to bind this community together is not just the relentless pursuit of athletic excellence, but the camaraderie that takes place outside of the banner line. As a consequence of their involvement, friendships have been forged that span the continent and even the globe. I hope that you’re getting your fair share.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good to Go in Seattle

After several years of development and a lot of tweaking of the model, we rolled out our first Good To Go (G2G) initiative at the Seattle Fire Department’s JTA (Joint Training Academy), May 12 and 13. Leading the charge was James Hilliard, Battalion Chief and Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge competitor.

The didactic program was organized around the Firefighter Survival Manual (FSM) - the book currently being developed to support this unique training package. Coupled with Chief Hilliard’s enthusiasm, the Seattle firefighters were an impressive group. Over a two-day, repeating schedule, almost 90 firefighters and officers showed up- on their own time to attend the day-long seminar and workshop.

The morning’s classroom session covered the first four chapters of the FSM, including topics on health risk factors, medical screening, fitness benefits and fire suppression physiology. Lunch was covered by the Officer’s Association and mentor-coaches formed up three platoons that rotated every 20 minutes across the Climb/Hoist, Forcible Entry and Lift/Drag stations.

Once the familiarity phase was done, everyone donned their bunkers and a Scott NX-G7 Air-Pak and walked (no racing) through the course, two at a time. Virtually everyone came in well under the suggested 6:00 cutoff and earned their G2G tee shirt and certificate. What an impressive group of professionals!

Now, back to the drawing board for a few tweaks in the PowerPoint presentation and the protocols, then we’re taking requests from other interested departments across the nation. I realize that the criterion tasks that comprise the Essential Function Test (EFT) might seem daunting to the uninitiated. But what the G2G program demonstrates is that if you pace yourself, you can probably finish comfortably on less than half of a :30 bottle of air.

At the conclusion of the EFT course, we polled a number of Seattle firefighters for their reactions. The common thread- this is not unlike a good “worker.” Some remarked that they had been to fires that were more demanding. The consensus was that unlike a real fire, the EFT had a finish line and knowing that, “gutting it out” for five minutes was a reasonable reflection of the physical demands of structural firefighting.

Many opined that knowing that their crew could successfully complete the EFT was reassuring, since it removed the ambiguity of uncertainty about the capabilities of who was backing you up. Everyone was on board with the “fit firefighter was a safe firefighter.“ As we all know, if you go down at the scene, we’ve not only lost you, but probably another four guys that will be taken out of action to haul you off to the ambulance.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Necessity, the Mother of Invention

I'm headed East out of Seattle, writing this week's BlogSpot at 35,000 feet. Not that it's unusual for me to compose stuff on airplanes, but this time, I'm actually POSTING it while in flight thanks to SWA's new WiFi system. Who would ever have thought you could surf the web from five miles up? Technology is truly marvelous.

One of the features of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is its simplicity. Aside from the Keiser Force Machine, there’s not a lot of sophisticated equipment required. This past week, I think that I’ve seen a new level of innovation; Jake Bange of Seattle FD is now carrying his version of the FCC course in the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

Lots of Competitors have used car tires to replicate dragging the hose. But, the fidelity of one tire looses something in the translation since the friction weight starts to go geometric as you add more length to the real hose drag. Then, there’s that pesky sensation when the second section “kicks in” and spins you around.

We haven’t done the definitive study to precisely identify the exact weight, but 240 pounds on the dynamometer was the value that I obtained the last time I measured the 1.75” hose fully extended. Jake has figured out a way to replicate the spin-around effect: use two tires, separated by a rope of approximately 20 feet. You take off with the first tire and then the second one kicks in. The great thing about this prop is that the country is awash with thousands of worn out mounted light duty truck tires. You can use a large eye bolt and big washer to penetrate the center of the tire tread. Or, if you’ve got the rim, just thread a rope or strap through the center hole and one of the lug bolt holes.

Jake gets triple duty out of his props; the tire can be used as a substitute for the Keiser station, or with a harness, towing the whole ensemble backwards really taxes the legs. You can bang away on the tire while standing on it, all the while getting a pretty good forearm workout just like what you’d feel on the sled. I tried the backwards drag and the legs definitely get a great pump.

There’s one more station that can be replicated with the tire; use a wider tire laying on its side as a step and move your feet up and down as fast as you can. Do about 60 counts to give you a reasonable facsimile for climbing the tower. Throw your shoulder load on for more intensity.

One more prop- the elastic stretching bands can be a substitute for the hose hoist. A nice wide sheet works pretty well; not as good as kettle bells, but you can replicate the biomechanics reasonably well.

So, there you have it. Almost the entire setup, for next to nothing in cost. And, oh yeah, the pickup truck ensures that wherever you go, you’ve got it: your own Challenge training course.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Contraband Days

One of the great things about the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is the interesting places you get to go and the people you meet. This past weekend was no exception. Lake Charles (LA) is home to the second largest event in the state (after Mardi Gras). It’s based on the activities of the French Gulf Coast pirate, Jean LeFitte and his exploits, including the sequestering of a treasure trove that people still search for. Besides having the mayor of Lake Charles walk the gangplank, he did help the US during the war of 1812. Check it out on Wikipedia. But enough of that.

I want to recognize the Challenge competitors and organizers of this event. We were last in town in 2003. From the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and of course the home state came over 100 participants. We were ready for some warmer weather and this weekend was perfect. Not only was the event on the front page of the local paper, but we also had coverage on the NBC local affiliate.

Lots of new people and some that we’ve haven’t seen in some time, including former two-time King of the Jungle, MSgt Eric Akers, USMC (ret), sporting long hair and a beard! Dave Bowman did an outstanding job, and in his inimitable, understated fashion said, “I’m okay with that.”

But the person who deservedly warrants a proper shout out is Cheri Ardoin. Putting together the fabric of a successful event can be a thankless task. It takes coordination with multiple city agencies, sponsors and support systems like EMS and concessions. As this event would go into the night, even the lighting needed to be addressed. Cheri pulled this off singlehandedly and on top of it all, took 11 seconds off her personal best! That had to be sweet in front of the home crowd.

I was remiss since I did not get video of the perfect biomechanics of her dummy lift and drag. This would be schoolroom perfect for anyone starting out in the Challenge. When I complimented her, she said that she was routinely practicing with a 190 pound dummy, so this one was easy. Her time of 3:21 is exemplary and even more so when you consider that she’s a whopping 131-lb, 41 y.o. mother!

Now, where’s the next person who’s wimping out about how tough this competition is?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dodged Another Bullet

As a nationally touring sports enterprise, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge has made appearances in 324 locations, including 45 states and the District of Columbia over the past 20 years in a country with sometimes inhospitable weather. Starting this year in Indianapolis, we were challenged by an ice-covered tower. In Ohio a couple of weeks later, 40 mile-per-hour winds buffeted our venue.

Back in the 90’s while in Florida, we narrowly missed a couple of hurricanes. Torrential rainstorms have slowed us down, but never caused a cancellation. Even the hurricane that crossed directly over Deerfield Beach, pushing 18 inches of sand onto the parking lot didn’t completely stop us, but we did have to postpone the event.

Wind is the constant threat. With thousands of square feet of “sail,” we’re a big target for damage. In Asheville three years ago, a micro-burst of wind picked up one of our loading boxes weighing over 400 pounds and snapped a ratchet strap like it was nothing. Annually, we lose about $1000 in damages due to wind. No matter how smart we think we are, and how well secured is our stuff, Mother Nature seems to take advantage when you’re not looking.

This week in Tuscaloosa we set another record of sorts. Our four tractor-trailer units were distributed over several locations in preparation for this weekend’s event. In anticipation of a looming tornado, Chuck and Bill brought our Honda 3kW generator, a stash of energy bars and three flats of water back to the hotel. Not long thereafter, the storm hit. They were, without a doubt, the best prepared guests at the hotel and treated as heroes for thinking of a best case solution for an otherwise dreary stay.

Last year, we held an event in Albertville, Alabama about a month after a tornado hit that community. We went looking for the damage and there was a street that had been pretty torn up. That wasn’t as bad as the year we had an event in Oklahoma. I recall looking out the window of the American Airlines jet, as we flew low over the sea of blue tarps that covered thousands of roofs.

But Chuck said that this was the worst by far. Sirens were wailing until there were no more towers. The funnel skirted within a block of the hotel. Bodies were strewn across the streets and recovery continues as I write this. Our Command Trailer was parked at the Fire Academy. One of the buildings there was ripped from its foundation. Our operations center, manufactured by Hercules was spun around and pushed up against the fence without any damage.

The Tower and the Dorsey Performance car-carrier trailer were unscathed. It took several hours to access the Kentucky semi because it was staged behind a barricaded area of the city where significant damage occurred. When Chuck and Bill reached the unit they were pleased to see that a banner that was affixed to the unit with bungee cords was still in tack.

We will be back to Tuscaloosa. Given the widespread devastation, it will take the hosts, the TFD some time to sort out their immediate needs and go back to the drawing boards. We thank all of your for your expressions of sympathy for the loss of life and widespread destruction that has been meted out to the unfortunate residents of Tuscaloosa.

Monday, we head West to Lake Charles, LA. Hopefully this time, we’ll have a rather mundane weather system riding along with us. After all, we need a break!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What’s Lactate Got to do With It?

In my last Blogspot, I discussed the theoretical model for a World Record on the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge course. The assumption was that running full out, based on the fastest splits recorded (casually), 1:05 would be about it for a relay team. But for an individual, the limiting factor is not the time, but actually the lactate threshold.

Exercise that is performed as a “pay as you go” activity is called aerobic energy because you can metabolize glucose at a rate that allows turnover. But when the intensity is increased, the products of combustion- carbon dioxide, water and lactate cannot be dumped fast enough. Lactic acid interferes with the ability to shove more fuel in the furnace and at some point, something has to give.

Dr. Timothy Noakes, from the University of Cape Town is arguably the world’s leading authority on the subject of lactate measurement and its impact on sport performance. His research has changed a lot of how we think about Specificity of Training- the result being more efficiencies in recycling the lactate with a resistance to fatigue. For the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, strength is not the issue; power is.

There may be some opportunities in the not too distant future to conduct some applied research among our Challenge competitors to understand better how specific training can create new breakthroughs. Measuring blood lactate in the field has benefited greatly through micro-electronics. In the early 90’s we were collecting blood samples in micro-pipettes from finger pricks and assaying them in a laboratory with the assistance of various chemical cocktails. Now, you can get the same data instantly with hand-held meters.

I’ve maintained from our inception that we can train a lot smarter, with less time and better results if we know where we are on periodization. I also believe that many of our athletes unfortunately subscribe to the theory that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Fatigue increases the risk of injury; rest is an essential factor in recovery and must be planned for. Residual muscle soreness is a clue that you’re not ready to resume training.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Human Limits of a World Record

In the very early years of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, the two minute barrier seemed to be daunting. Could someone actually break two minutes? In the context of a historical sports event, it seemed to be up there with the four minute mile. As an ingenue sport, Challenge competitors brought their personal experience in athletics to the competition. Almost everyone had participated in organized sport at the high school or collegiate level.

Training was not a foreign concept, but specificity of training was not widely practiced. For example, pulling a Honda up a hill with a shoulder harness was one unique modality. If you were an endurance athlete, like a cyclist, then that was what you knew best and how you trained. Traditional strength training had a lot of followers, with the mistaken belief that getting stronger would somehow convert into becoming faster. When adding 75 pounds to a PR failed to evoke a change on the course, a lot of competitors started to re-examine their workouts.

Today, top competitors have scientific regimens prepared by kinesiologists and personal trainers- all the amenities found at the Olympics or other world-class competitions. Rest, and active rest have assumed importance in the workout cycle. Breaking down the components into splits allows athletes to determine where they are relative to being on a PR pace and when they need to break off training to allow recovery.

Answering the question, “What are the human limits of a near perfect run?” comes the introspective analysis of Mike Mederios, team captain of Horry County. Mike, using data from the best of the best splits created a theoretical perfect storm. Here are the splits, based upon the Relay. The relay was originally conceived as a way of determining how fast the course could be run if every event was completed at terminal velocity.

Tower ascent: 12 seconds
Hose Hoist: 5.8 seconds
Tower Descent: 10.88 seconds
Forcible Entry: 7 seconds
Hydrant Run: 9.9 seconds
Hose Advance: 7.8 seconds
Victim Rescue: 12 seconds
Total Time: 1:05.38

The current World Record (WR) Relay time held by Clayton County (GA) is a stunning 1:07.74. Bob Russell’s (Overland Park, KS) single run of 1:19.02, now 10 years old continues to be the speed chimera. The conditions at this year’s venue will be near perfect. A flat platform with excellent foot traction. Weather and wind cooperating. Now, with a heated tray, you have a constant coefficient of friction on the Keiser Force Machine. Could this be the year? There’s a lot of time between now and November 18. The tension builds.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New World Record set in Indy!

Well, not exactly the kind you want to set; but in Indianapolis this past week, we conducted the coldest Challenge yet. The prior week saw temperatures in the 70°s; Wednesday, during setup, we’re wearing our traditional garb of shorts and sandals. Then the wind picked up and the temperature plummeted 40° overnight.

A drizzle moved in and started to freeze with a quarter inch (8mm) of ice covering the tower resulting our canceling the day’s races. Regrettably, about 15 competitors in the open class had to return to work, so they were unable to run Thursday. Our apologies. Such is the danger of holding events in March in Indiana. The good news is that the date returns to April next year. The reason for the switch was that Indianapolis won the bid to host the NCAA Final Four.

Despite the weather, hundreds of spectators stood in the 25kt wind, mesmerized with the competition. This is a great platform and we are excited about growing the importance of this event in the out years.

A lot of the off season hard work of Chuck DeGrandpre and Bill Alexander was on display. The heated Keisers were probably the most appreciated. It will be difficult to ensure that the trays will always be at a precise temperature. But with the mercury hovering around freezing to the very low 40°s, we were able to get the temperature to 80°.

In a practical sense, this means that shadows will no longer have the dramatic effect of the past. Our preference will still be to orient the course N-S. But sometimes that’s impossible.

We’ve added a shortened (height) banner as a delineator so that there is less confusion as to which way to go when you come off the Keiser. We’ll monitor the placement to see if our location is proper.

The second generation of the start system has been created. We found out that our Alge timing system does not like these cold temperatures and gets balky. This is the same device that the Olympics use for downhill racing. Maybe they have it in a heated environment?

ProTech has donated gear bags for a random winner; the prize is made at the conclusion of the Awards Ceremony; you must be present to win. Scott McClellan, regrettably had left.

Just a note of caution regarding the start. You can adjust the pack, but you cannot touch it once you are set on the start pads. To avoid a false start (red light penalty: 5 seconds), you must remain motionless for 2 seconds. I know for some of you, that’s a lot to ask. Attention to this simple request will result in no false starts this year. While considerable discussion on this topic took place at the CAB meeting this past year, not present was Chuck, with his compelling research conducted over last year’s off season. This was the topic of my earlier post on this topic. Let’s move on; or, err, not move for two seconds before moving on.

We will never change the nature of the Challenge as a head-to-head competition. For the obvious reason that there is no head-to-head competition anywhere in the world that allows people to self start, we will likewise adhere to the tried and true, one clock for both competitors. Imagine the crowd trying to figure out who’s actually in the lead?

Very few crashes at the finish line, we’re happy to report (maybe one?). It’s your responsibility to stop the clock; failure to do so will result in a 2 second penalty.

Thinking that the boot issue was finally put to rest, a competitor asked me “Where does it say that you have to be NFPA compliant?” I was astounded. I attempted to politely respond that NFPA 1971 has been the standard since 1991 and we have never changed this rule since the inception of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. He said he never saw this on the website. I’m wondering if we’re looking at the same website. On the subject of enforcement, I tried the following analogy: let’s say you’ve been doing 80 mph down I-95 for years and you get stopped. Try telling the cop that since you’ve never got caught that your driving velocity should be allowed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

It’s About Time...

An introspective look at the mechanics of running the Challenge

Shaving seconds off the clock is the constant pursuit of all Challenge Competitors. Initially, improvements come in large blocks of seconds. But at some point, you hit that barrier where you’re chasing fractions of seconds. It’s not unlike golf where the improvements come in huge chunks and then it’s progressively harder to get that stroke count under 80, then 70.

The Start
In sprint types of races, 100m, 200m, drag racing, etc., fractions of seconds is what it’s all about. With our current start system, the human variability has been largely removed in that the Starter does not control when the siren sounds. The old days of a Competitor playing some kind of a head game against an opponent has been taken out of the equation. Now, it’s a head game that you play against yourself. How can you benefit by using your own reaction time?

Putting reaction time in proper context, consider that the average finish time is now around two minutes, and a number of competitors are in the one-thirty range. Realistically, what additional benefit can you ascribe to the start? The start system provides micro-second data on reaction times, and we’ve been casually observing the mechanics of thousands of races. Realistically, in an event that takes over 90 seconds to complete- unlike sprint events, the start is not where the race is won. Said another way, it’s not worth the risk to jump the gun.

Over the winter of 2010, Chuck DeGrandpre and Bill Alexander spent a considerable amount of time focusing on a transparent and objective method for standardizing the start. Hundreds of trials were run and videotaped. The election for a five-second penalty was based upon a number of factors. False starts had been a problem and resetting a race was impracticable. Five seconds for a false start makes sense when you consider that jumping early can give you nearly a two second advantage over the siren, in addition to the disconcerting effect on the other competitor

Contrary to the claims that “I never moved before the green light”, video confirms that competitors are moving their foot. They wouldn’t believe it until they watched the videotape. If you’re properly positioned with the ball of your feet planted on the pressure switch, you’re not going to get a red light. Period. There’s a very simple solution for avoiding the red light: Don’t Do It. The difference between anticipation of the siren and moving on the sound will save you more time than you’ll ever make up.

Gaining Ground
If you look at the Challenge Course events for where you can make the greatest improvement, focus on the delineator run and hose advance. The hardest thing to do is get over the mindset that says, “This is a great time to recover.” Running versus walking has the potential to take seconds off your time thereby removing any thoughts about the milliseconds that may be acquired for the start, or risking a five-second penalty.

The Keiser
In the last CAB meeting, the subject of the Keiser Forcible Entry Simulator was brought up. Specifically, discussed was the change in the coefficient of friction associated with temperature. We have known this for a very long time, but solutions have eluded us. Keeping both sleds in the sun is one way of having consistent lanes, but that’s not always possible when the course orientation is East to West. So, we’ve added heating elements to the trays that will keep the temperature ≈ 110°F (43°C), consistent with exposure to direct sunlight.

The Finish
For as long as we’ve been running the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, we’ve been providing coaching tips to help everyone’s performance. We’ve repeatedly pointed out that loss of control on the dummy drag is non-productive and potentially dangerous. Watching hundreds of Competitors as they approach the finish line, we couldn’t help but notice that those who turn their head to check their location would soon follow with a fall. It was nearly automatic. It is an enormous temptation that unfortunately comes with disastrous consequences.

The other problem observed at World Challenge XIX were the numbers of competitors who felt compelled to throw (lunge) themselves backwards at the finish line. The potential of a career-ending injury is unconscionable, not to mention the toll that this rash act has on very expensive breathing apparatus.

The argument in defense of the crash and burn finish just doesn’t hold any water. No one ever got to first base faster by sliding, jumping or lunging. It’s been scientifically proven that continuing your stride and motion across the bag is the fastest way to get there. It’s the same with the Challenge.

Finish Line Mechanics
Since its inception, the SFCC rules have stated that your time stops when you- the Competitor and the feet of the mannequin cross the threshold. It is the magnets in the heels of the boots of the dummy that close the circuit on a series of reed switches thereby stopping the clock. This is a competition unlike any other, where the victim’s position is paramount, versus the leading edge of the athlete that stops the clock. We make no apologies for this; it’s what makes firefighting what it is- it’s about saving the victim. It’s also expensive to design a system to do this, but we’re not about shortcuts.

New Rule Change
We have been studying ways to make our event safer and finishing under control is one of the best ways to lessen injuries and minimize damage to the equipment. The responsibility for stopping the clock will be that of the Competitor. For the 2011 season, those individuals who fail to stop the clock, will be given a handheld stopwatch time plus two seconds. If there is a mechanical problem with the clock, there is no penalty.

The immediate benefit will be seen in the Relay category where one lane’s completion time is fixed and displayed and the other continues to run, thereby eliminating confusion as to who won.