By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Rushing into a blazing building to save lives and fight fires is a serious enterprise that requires a proper mixture of skill and stamina, something few people get to see close up. But last weekend’s St. Jean Baptiste Festival provided attendees the unique opportunity to see firefighters from Thorhild, Viking, Namao, Gibbons and Morinville putting those skills to the test during the Morinville Fire Department’s Fire Within Combat Challenge.
For nearly two hours firefighters of both genders made their way through an obstacle course that put many of their firefighting skills to the test and demonstrated that the occupation is not an easy one, even with the countless hours of training.
Dressed in full gear, competitors began the course by carrying a packed fire hose on their back up four flights of stairs where they would drop the pack and use a rope to haul another bundled fire hose from the ground up to the top floor. Upon the completion of that task, each firefighter had to make their way back down to ground level, ensuring that their feet touched each step in the four-storey scaffold structure. Back on the ground competitors had to drive a concrete block a distance of one foot using a sledge hammer, an exercise that replicated the exertion needed for a forced entry. Next the firefighter had to manoeuvre around a set of pylons to grab a fully charged fire hose, drag it back across the parking lot obstacle course and let loose on a target. The firefighters then exchanged the heavy hose for an equally heavy rescue dummy, dragging the 200-pound dead weight back across the length of the parking lot to reach the finish line.
Morinville firefighters James Wilson and Josh Cust took first and third spot respectively, while Namao firefighter Eric Zazulac took second place. Gibbons cleaned house in the women’s division with Chris Bassett taking first place and Jennifer Ford coming in second. Morinville was also to field a female competitor, Katherine Cust, but a bit of illness that morning relegated her to running a stop watch instead of the Combat Challenge course.
However, being removed from the field did not detract from her enjoyment of the event.
“I feel it was a huge success,” Cust said, noting she felt the crowds who gathered to watch the Combat Challenge got a good idea of just how difficult firefighting is. “It’s called the toughest two-minutes in sports, actually. It really pushes your limits. Even completing it is pretty much a huge accomplishment in terms of being a firefighter.”
Cust said that one competitor didn’t make it all the way. Sylvan Row, the challenge’s last participant, dropped before reaching the finish.
“He just gave her going up the tower, pulling up the rope, coming back down,” Cust said, adding that Row slowed down a bit making his way through the pylons but managed to pick up the charged fire hose. “You can see, he was almost there, almost crossed the line, and he swayed back and forth and then he just went down.”
Cust said Row couldn’t have passed out in a better spot, surrounded by firefighters and EMS professionals who took care of him. But although Row didn’t make it to the finish line, it wasn’t so much the strenuous obstacle course that did him in as it was his volunteer efforts the night before. Row had spent the previous evening erecting the scaffolding used in the Combat Challenge and had spent a good part of the same night monitoring the tower every couple of hours.
In addition to taking top spot in the men’s division of the challenge, Morinville 1, made up of Tyler McArthur, Phil Deguerre, Kevin Foy, James Wilson and Josh Cust, took top spot in the relay event.