Friday, February 28, 2014

The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge: More than just entertainment

I asked Chief Bill Sturgeon if he would provide a first person account of his participation in the Challenge at the Daytona 500 last Saturday. We constantly remark that the Challenge is a competition with a purpose. I believe Chief Sturgeon’s comments validate our claim. This is the first of several postings from the first event of the 2014 season.

Several of you witnessed a personal and professional accomplishment Saturday February 22, 2014,  when I completed my first Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge in the over 50 division with a time of 6:19. For my first event, it was just about finishing. While I missed the 6:00 minute mark by 19 seconds, I was elated (and a little oxygen deprived) when the Pit Crew began to helped me doff my gear.  I have been a career firefighter since 1982 when I entered the United States Air Force as a firefighter. 

I remained on active duty for several years before I transferred to the USAF Reserves. After leaving the Air Force I was hired by the City of Deland as a Firefighter and completed my first physically demanding firefighting course in 1985, Smoke Divers at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. I also attended paramedic school during my tenure with Deland and then left that agency to become a firefighter/paramedic with Orange County Fire Rescue. 

During my 24 year career with Orange County, I rose through the ranks and became the Division Chief of Training.  During my employment as a firefighter, I never really paid much attention to my wellness and fitness (until recently) and I ballooned to a weight of 302 pounds. I felt unhealthy and very unfit….. In 2013,  I was appointed to the Fire Chief’s position at the City of St. Cloud and I have spent the last several months preaching “leadership by example.” What I quickly learned is that being a fire chief is a tough an stressful job and I knew I had to do something to change my paradigm related to stress and fitness. Enter Patrick Hogan; my personal trainer who four years ago weighed over 350 pounds himself. Right away, we bonded and began a strengthening and fitness regimen.  He told me I had to have a goal, I chose the Firefighter Combat Challenge as my goal to improve my fitness level. I now weigh 270 lbs and have lost three pants sizes since September of 2013.

On the day of the challenge, I brought my own support team (wife Linda, my Trainer Patrick, and his wife Christie). I do not know who was more nervous, me our my crew?  I drew the number “6” and had to run (ok… walk) the heat by myself. I was in the ready position and ran through my strategy in my mind one more time (take three deep breaths on each landing and prior to each station) As I climbed the tower I felt pretty good (but my vibralert was sounding [I quickly checked my air and it was good]), I reached the top and began the hose hoist and realized that I had underestimated the difficulty of this event, but I completed it and even managed to chase the hose down the stairs when I missed the “box.” 

I chuckled, put the hose in the box and proceeded down the stairs (touching everyone as required). I arrived at the sled (my favorite event) and proceeded to move the block in the proper direction until the buzzer sounded. I then proceeded through the obstacle course and picked up the charge 1 ¾ hose line and advanced it towards the target. I can remember one of the staff members telling me I am going to feel a tug, I do not remember the tug because being a big man in motion has its advantages. I knocked down the target and proceeded to the “longest 100 feet in the fire service.” I picked up a very stiff 175 lb dummy and rested him on my wrist and that lasted for about 25 feet and then I dropped him. 

Now, I am starting to get foggy and could here staff members and the crowd yelling “come on chief you can do it!” That inspired me to go another 40 feet, then I dropped the dummy again and the next thing I know Grand National Champion Louis Boiteau is in my face saying “come on chief, 30 seconds, you got this.” I grabbed the dummy and stumbled across the finish line….. mission accomplished. However, the highlight of my day was on the shuttle on my way back to the parking area when a fellow firefighter looked at me and said “Hey chief, you gained the respect of a lot of firefighters today.” Thank you brother !!! That meant a lot!

My after action review:

1.      Train beyond what is required of you in the challenge.
2.      Legs, legs, legs
3.      More aerobic capacity development
4.      Have a peaceful mind during the Challenge
5.      Have a strategy to complete the course
6.      Practice with a 175 lb dummy (Louis told me to practice dragging the dummy 150 feet)
7.      Be prepared for anything-make sure your air is all the way on…..rookie mistake
8.      Practice your technique for the sled. Hands together.
9.      Set a goal and work towards it….

Chief Bill Sturgeon
City of St. Cloud, Florida

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