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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why NFPA 1971

Not wishing to pound the boot issue into the pavement, I hope that this posting will cover the last vestiges of doubt about the NFPA process of certifying PPE, and why we have elected to subscribe to NFPA standards.

1. Because it is the only universally recognized standard in North America. No need for us to re-invent the wheel.
2. We do not wish to substitute our judgment for that of those who actually make products or test same.
3. Since its inception, NFPA 1971 has been the criteria by how the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge determines compliance.
4. Originally, we subscribed to the honor system, whereby we mistakenly believed that everyone would play by the rules.
5. As we began to drill down, we found that some few competitors where taking short cuts.
6. We do not know the intricacies of how a non-NFPA compliant boot could be assumed to be so, but we have a few clues.
7. The word “or” in our rules was misinterpreted, thereby validating that anything that can be misinterpreted, will be.
8. The intended inference was to the Globe Footwear product, which does not have steel caps or shanks; ergo, “or.”
9. This was not the best choice of a word, no doubt giving rise to the erroneous conclusion that any product with a steel cap or shank was okay.
10. The language that precedes this part of the rules takes precedent and seems to be overlooked; it is repeated here:

Turnout Gear
All competitors must compete in their own protective equipment. PPE (i.e., turnout gear - helmet, coat, pants, gloves and boots) must be serviceable (i.e., without holes, or excessive wear), approved for structural fire fighting consistent with NFPA 1971 standards in effect at the time of manufacture. Hoods, face shields and earflaps are not required.

Now, a word about helmets.
We enjoy the clever designs and modifications to your racing helmets. We realize that some of you have spent upwards of $500 in decorating your lid, and that you’re not going to be fighting fire while wearing these noggin protectors. However, the basic premise is that you start with an NFPA 1971 compliant helmet and do not remove the label. Also, the original suspension and padding materials are not to be removed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

20th Annual Scott Seattle Stair Climb

This past weekend, John Granby and I traveled to Seattle to be the gear inspectors for the 20th Annual Scott Stair Climb, a charity event that benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Columbia tower rises above Seattle to the tune of 74 stories. I believe that the fastest climbers, in full bunkers and on breathing air do it with one bottle in under 10 minutes. Pretty impressive. Most of the participants make a bottle change on the 40th floor. I took the challenge of joining the “sweepers” following up the last firefighter. My self-appointed job was to pick up beer bottles, knowing that likelihood would be non-existent, but sounded pretty official.

Checking 1500 sets of gear is a daunting task in of itself; I’ve got some ideas about how to avoid that number of squats to check boots for next year. I’m getting a stick on which to place my magic magnet!

The participants came in all sizes, colors and sex; from near and far- the Kiwi’s covering the longest distance. It’s always a pleasure to be around people who are into fitness. Their attitudes reflect the joie d’vive- the well-adjusted mindset of people who have a purpose in life. I couldn’t help but think of a few of the experiences that I had, back in the day when we had a working fire in a high rise building and the numbers of firefighters who were incapable of climbing the 20 stories to the top. Quite a contrast; making me think, “Why do we need to find out at the time of the fire that we can’t safely get the job done?”

In only 30 minutes, you get a pretty good perspective on where you are, relative to where you should be. It’s a self-diagnostic test that transcends numbers like your maximal oxygen uptake or blood lactate threshold. Come to think of it, it’d be a pretty good entrance test for the fire department. Some time back, I was asked to testify as an Expert Witness for the Los Angeles Fire Department in a case based upon fitness for duty. In my meeting with the fire chief, I asked him, “what is your expectation on the number of floors a LA firefighter should be able to climb at the scene of a fire?”

His reply: “To the top.” Pretty well sums it up.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

False Negatives and True Positives

For more than a decade, we’ve subscribed to the tenants of Drug-Free Sports. About fifteen years ago, we were approached by some competitors who were concerned about what appeared to be pretty obvious “saucing up” by a few of the competitors. Mistakenly of the belief that the honor system would work, we asked that everyone execute a form that they were competing without the assistance of any banned substance. Guess that didn’t work because we were observing people that clearly did not bulk up by just lifting weights- despite the fact that they gleefully signed the forms.

I’m not unfamiliar with the benefits of steroid use; back in the 70’s, the de rigueur for all power athletes at all levels of competition was to “use.” Prescriptions could be obtained legally and I, as a paramedic administered such drugs to a couple of my Olympic weight lifting team member graduate students while on the faculty at the University of Maryland. After all, “everyone was doing it.” But the times and climate have changed.

For awhile, sport scientists were discounting the benefits; as a card carrying Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, I would espouse the party line that “they don’t work.” All the while, I’m watching guys add 50 pounds of lean mass and see their PRs skyrocket. We lost a lot of credibility by denying the obvious. Anabolic steroids do work. That’s why it’s cheating.

So, we started testing in the Challenge. Initially, every time we conducted a drug test, we caught someone. There would be protests, but not too vocal protests. In the last couple of years, we’ve not detected anyone using. We know about cycling off anabolic steroids, hence we would test randomly. We also know that some people may have been innocently caught because you can’t believe the labels of some packagers. But, we hold the end user responsible for knowing what they’re putting in their bodies. Simply stated, you must know the origin of your supplements. There are some reputable brands out there. For example, EAS has to post a $250K bond with the NFL to have their products tested. I know this because I attended the NFL Combine and sat in on the meeting on drug testing.

There are legally prescribed drugs that are banned for sport use. But we have never had this problem. There are recreational drugs that are illegal, but are not ergogenic. Maybe that was what caused the initial push back when we announced that we were starting drug testing. To make one point perfectly clear, we do not report results to anyone other than the offender. And cannabis, while a banned substance, does not rise to the level of enhancing performance.
If you want to know what’s banned, go to: http://www.drugfreesport.com/

The impetus for this post came from an article in the Washington Post’s Sports section this week. The link is reproduced in this Blog so you can read the entire article for yourself. In the article, there were some examples of athletes who were screwed over by bad data.

Our policy is a part of our rules. Please read them over. Nothing has changed- just like the boot thing- same rules. Enforcement by testing everyone is not possible or even feasible. But, we will test. We would much rather not spend the money, but regrettably, that honor system thing just didn’t cut it.