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New Challenge Tests Firefighters' Fitness

New Challenge Tests Firefighters' Fitness

Marlboro Fire Lt. Ken MacEwen is observed by official Clint Lamb as Maynard Firefighter Tim Gray is watched by official Chuck DeGrandpre during the “forcible entry” component of the Firefighter Combat Challenge at the Solomon Pond Mall Friday. [

Worcester Telegram via YellowBrix

May 18, 2010

MARLBORO, MA — The Marlboro Fire Department hosted the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge Friday and Saturday at Solomon Pond Mall on the Berlin-Marlboro line, attracting several thousand onlookers and participants.

Thirty-eight teams from all over New England and Canada competed in what organizers call “the toughest two minutes in sports.”

The challenge includes five major obstacles: climbing a five-story tower carrying a 42-pound hose, hoisting a 42-pound hose “doughnut,” chopping a 160-pound sled with a mallet, hitting a small target with a water stream, and dragging a 175-pound “victim” backward 100 feet — all while wearing 40 to 50 pounds of firefighting gear and a breathing mask.

This weekend’s event was one of about 20 regional competitions in the United States and Canada, but the only one in the Northeast. The best will compete in the nationally televised finals to be held in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in November.

Saturday morning’s opening ceremony featured the Marlboro Fire Department Color Guard, as well as remarks by Marlboro Fire Chief Ricky Plummer, state Rep. Danielle W. Gregoire, D-Marlboro, and Marlboro City Councilman Don Landers. Marlboro High School senior James McCarthy performed the national anthem.

One highlight of the event is the Kids Firefighter Challenge, a smaller version of the adult course. Children between 4 and 11 years old were able to don a firefighter suit and helmet and try their luck at the stair climb slide, hammer-slammer and fire hose target.

Bill Taylor, event organizer and president of Marlboro Fire Department Local Union 1714, was responsible for bringing the event to Marlboro.

“It’s a great way to promote fitness among firefighters,” he said.

Another union had to cancel its plans to host, so Marlboro had only four months to prepare. “It was very last-minute, trying to pull everything together and organize it,” he said.

Management at the Solomon Pond Mall, he said, was instrumental in getting the event off the ground. Originally considered for an indoor rain-out venue, Director of Mall Marketing Sheila Hennessy suggested the mall would be a great place indoors or outdoors. She and her staff helped with traffic, security, maintenance and media relations to support the event.

Mr. Taylor noted the many other sponsors and volunteers, many from the Marlboro Fire Department, who assisted at the event. “It’s great PR for the community,” he said. It seemed like perfect timing as well, as Marlboro is celebrating its 350th year in 2010.

Eight firefighters from the Marlboro Fire Department competed, including first-time competitor Steven Cavallo. He said the participants train on their own before each event.

“Everyone has a different level of training,” he said. “Some guys are real serious; we just want a respectable time.” He said that his team did well in Friday’s individual events. The average time for the course is three minutes, but a couple of firefighters ran it in about 1.5 minutes. “The hardest part is controlling your breathing with the mask on,” Mr. Cavallo said.

Mr. Cavallo said he wants to compete again next year. “It’s great to meet other firefighters from all over,” he said. “It’s a real brotherhood.”

Paul Davis founded the challenge back in 1991. “It was based on research I did at the University of Maryland in 1975 to study the physiological demands of firefighting,” he said. This study was funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Fire Administration, now known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During the investigation, Mr. Davis noticed the competitive nature of firefighters and thought a challenge would be a great way to “showcase the talents and capabilities of the firefighters.” He teamed with Scott Health & Safety, a worldwide supplier of personal safety equipment, including the self-contained breathing apparatus the firefighters wear during the challenge.