Tuesday, January 31, 2012

If I had a Hammer

The subject of this BlogSpot is the Hammer (shot mallet) and other variables that influence your performance on the Keiser Force Machine. The Trusty-Cook hammer is the perfect tool for this job. If you attempted to strike the beam with an all-steel hammer, the recoil effect would significantly reduce your effectiveness. The head of the official hammer contains thousands of tiny BB.'s. At the point of impact, there is a one-two punch effect: the mass of the hammer head quickly followed by the shot. When the beam is hit in the “sweet spot” a distinctive ringing sound is heard. 

I’m not convinced that alternating hits from edge to edge is effective. But, I can assure you that anything other than a 90° strike is directing force in a plane that is less effective than a square hit. 

Heat is generated by the friction of the BBs hitting each other and this heat can increase to the point where the urethane will actually disintegrate. For this reason, we are only selling hammers in pairs. If you wish to purchase a single hammer, they will be available for purchase at our store. To prolong the useful life of the hammer, it’s best that it be used in temperature greater than 60°F, and not more than 100°F. And, it’s a good idea to rotate use between firefighters. 

As you no doubt know, we added heaters to the trays of the Keiser Force Machines last year. This year, we’ll be adding a hammer heater. From the survey responses, several people remarked that the heaters were not working. Yes, they were “on” for the duration. But when the temperature dipped, the hammers were no longer pliable. In my conversations with the manufacturer, I was told of roughnecks in Alaska carrying the hammer in the back of their pickup- and the shattering of a perfectly good hammer because they didn’t keep it in their cab prior to use. 

We warranty the hammer for defects, not normal use. It is not a lifetime warranty. Take care of the hammer and you’ll get reasonable use. 

Heating the trays of the Keiser has had a profound effect on creating consistency. So, the bottom line is that we cannot guarantee a laboratory-controlled pristine environment everywhere we go and every time you mount the machine. We are very much attuned to the quality control required to clean the sleds. We rely on volunteers to perform a fairly low-skilled job: spraying the tray and the runners with a 50/50 mixture of alcohol and water (to aid evaporation) and wiping the runners and tray with a clean cloth. Does this happen every time? Almost; at least 99%. 

Other than a few "short" Keisers, and hammer placements, there was only one race that I'm aware of where the competitor lost the hammer. We edited the rules to address this safety violation. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rules and Procedures for 2012

As is our practice since the 1991 inception of the Firefighter Combat Challenge, the Rules Committee met during the recess and reviewed the prior year’s practices with an eye towards addressing any need for changes in the rules, protocols and procedures.

To spare you the requirement of reading the document from stem to stern, here’s a quick synopsis of the tweaks that we have made.

1. Keiser Force Machine
Although a rare occurrence, sometimes the Competitor looses his grip on the mallet, creating a dangerous condition. Actually, it’s only dangerous if someone is struck by a flying hammer. Subsequently, it will be a disqualification if the hammer travels past the footprint of the Force Machine. This is similar to the hammer being in contact with the Lion mat. Language has been added to address this situation.

2. GNC Categories
A competitor can only win in one Individual Age Category; i.e., membership on a team or a relay is not affected.

3. Retention of Equipment
As written, the rule is already reasonably clear. However, the definition of equipment is expanded to include anything that you have on your person, be it sunglasses or an iPod. If you drop it, it must be picked up prior to advancing to the next task. Parenthetically, for years we produced the ESPN coverage of the Army’s Best Ranger Challenge, a grueling 60-hour non-stop event. One of the Rangers lost his cover (hat). They kicked him out of the competition- a pretty serious consequence as the rule is you could not lose anything. Period. Wow. [Add to the list of Disqualifications]

4. Penalties
We reviewed the penalties for the four days of the Wild Cards and the finals and compared them to last year’s numbers. There did not appear to be any statistically significant differences, with the possible exception of False Starts (jumping the gun) had gone down. We also reviewed the seriousness of the 5 second penalty and agreed that is it appropriate for two reasons. First, it’s easily remediated; i.e., “just don’t do it.” The requirement to stand still for 2 seconds is not an arduous expectation. Unlike Sprint Track Events, the competitor is not disqualified. Secondly, jumping the gun affords a significant, unfair advantage. Since we don’t have gradations of seconds of penalty, the 5 second rule should be a reasonable deterrent. We’ve repeatedly gone over the justification- and the objectivity of the penalty and believe that attempting to game the start is reasonably penalized. There is a subjective component to the start: identifying those who touch the Hi-rise pack before the siren. Our starter will continue to be responsible for this judgement call.

5. Team Defined
The language has been written and a reviewing body created. We’ve been over virtually every combination and permutation in an attempt to be fair and consistent. Because of the widespread nature and composition of how fire departments are configured, exceptions will be vetted by a 7-member committee. Fire Departments in North America range from tiny all-volunteer departments to the ≈13,000 member FDNY. And, we’ve seen both in the competition. The collective size of a department has little to do with the finish order. The intention is to outlaw attempts to go outside of the rules to create a team of Allstars.

6. Registration Fees
No change in the prices for the Regional Competitions will take place in 2012.

7. Lion’s Den Criteria
Women over 40 may be inducted with a time equal to, or less than 3:30.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Challenge on the Mall

Our first appearance on the US Capitol Mall took place in April of 1994. In the mind of the US Department of the Interior, this is sacred ground. The number of hoops through which one must jump are significant. Forms have to be filled out and submitted in triplicate. Preference is given to ethnic types of displays and activities, and we sure didn’t meet that criteria. With the assistance of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) we were able to cut through a lot of the red tape and arrange for a $5000 bond. We had to hire a couple of US Park Police officers for reasons that we couldn’t quite figure out until later.

This was the first year that Scott Safety joined the tour and their contributions included supplying the bleachers and the scaffolding through their then affiliate Safway Scaffolding company- a part of the Figgie International group.

Every competitor who participated in this event remembers with fondness the hose drag on the grass. No one would ever have believed that pulling hose in tall grass could be so difficult. Many opined that this is one of the most difficult tasks that they’ve ever encountered. I can recall seeing several guys nearly horizontal in their attempts to stretch the line to the gate.

But, the incredible backdrop of the Washington Monument to our event was well worth all the effort. The photo array in this month’s Flickr account is testimony to that grand and glorious day. The Challenge looks pretty sparse- completely understandable since we had no truck for transportation of our equipment until Hackney stepped up and sponsored the Support Vehicle. Prior to that everything was done by North American Van Lines. Coordinating arrival times in the pre-cell phone days was a daunting task.

Look over the photos and send along your thoughts- especially if you were there. We’d love to hear from you. By the way, the purpose for the Park Police was to issue tickets to the firefighters. That’s like hiring your wife’s divorce attorney!