The very first Challenge was held at the University of Maryland’s Fire Rescue Institute (MFRI). It was a fitting location since the facility served as the site for the original research (1976-6), funded by the predecessor to FEMA, the NFPCA (National Fire Prevention and Control Administration). Blissfully, the name was shortened to NFA and absorbed into FEMA by the time we started the national program, known by its current title.
The year was 1991. Five of the political jurisdictions in the greater Washington, DC SMA (statistical metropolitan area) participated. Montgomery, Prince Georges, Arlington, Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria were represented by five-person teams.
I recruited a bunch of my fire service buddies to serve as resetters and course officials. We used the drill tower and the first Keiser “slammer”- a prototype that was 9’ long with a painted tray. One Stanley shot mallet, in black rubber had to last for the entire duration (barely).
All of the props excepting the Keiser were provided by MFRI. It was an understatement to say that this was a learning experience. For example, there’s a huge difference in the durability of fire hose, by brand.
Competitors were fed into the tower on a shotgun-style of start. When one firefighter exited, another entered, with each followed by an official with a stopwatch. There were no banners, music or announcer. But there was a group of spectators who cheered wildly for their favorites.
About midway into the event, Jimmy Jarboe, a lieutenant from my department, the City of Takoma Park saw the looming problem of a competitor being lapped. The dummy we were using weighed 175 pounds - the same weight as the current Simulaids Rescue Randy®.
Jimmy sprinted to the pickup line for the dummy drag and took the place of the vacant mannequin. Just this past week, Jimmy, now Fire Chief, and I reminisced, with some laughs about the event.
We had coverage from the now-defunct Fire Chief magazine and the CBS affiliate WUSA channel 9 - all of which would be leveraged for DuPont Nomex and Kevlar taking the show on the road for the first two years.
Ben Barksdale, presently the fire chief of Orlando was there, and continued his presence for over 20 years.
Fire Chief James E. Jarboe, Takoma Park Station Montgomery County MD
The Original “Rescue Jimmy”