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November 11, 2009 > Local firefighters set to defend world title

Local firefighters set to defend world title

By Simon Wong
Photos By courtesy of Brian Guernsey

Firefighters Brian Guernsey, Justin Earls (Fremont FD), Mike Melton (Alameda County FD), Harry Myers (Union City FD) and Justin McNulty (Piedmont FD) will defend their world championship team title at the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge in Las Vegas, Nevada, the week beginning November 16.

The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, an annual fitness competition for firefighters simulating real life skills, is in its 18th year. For participants, it is the culmination of hard work, dedication and intensive training.

The five men compete as Team NorCal and are the 2008 Team Event World Champions. They rank fourth in the Relay category.

In the Team Event, each man runs the course in full gear including breathing apparatus; the three fastest times give an aggregate team-time. The Relay event entails completing a leg of the course, in full gear minus breathing apparatus, and passing a baton to the next team member.

The events are a test of mental and physical toughness and technical ability and skill. They are designed to show the public what firefighters must do when they attend a real-life fire scene. The training regimen involves increasing anaerobic performance, especially for the Team Event. Firefighters breathe compressed air containing 21 percent oxygen but the supply is inadequate under competitive conditions.

"When attending to a real fire, the air supply from our equipment is fine. We pace ourselves. If we can't look after ourselves, how can we care for others? When competing, we experience lactic-acid build up because we race against the clock," explained Guernsey.

Retired Fremont Battalion Chief and physical education instructor John Cerutti introduced Guernsey and Earls to the Challenge in 2001 when they were trainee firefighters. Cerutti was the "Over-50" world champion in 1996 and passionate about the competition.

Guernsey competed as an individual in Anaheim in 2002 and Earls started in 2004. Melton and Myers served at Travis Air Force Base together and were world champions from 2004 to 2007. This is their 10th year in the competition. The Challenge is a big event for all branches of the armed forces. Last year, they and McNulty, who has competed alone, joined forces under Challenge rules which permit firefighters within a county to form a team of three to five people, if their respective fire departments do not have enough people for a three-man squad.

To reach the World Championship, competitors must satisfy time-criteria in regional competitions. Fremont FD hosts a regional event either at the Arts & Wine Festival or the Chili Cook Off. Anyone may compete in the US National Championship, a separate event.

Any participant failing to qualify for the World Championship through the Canadian National may attempt to do so via a US regional.

At the World Championship, more than 700 international firefighters vie, Monday through Wednesday, to be one of 16 teams in the finals on Thursday (Team Event) and Friday (Relay Event).

Pairs of competitors race against each other, the clock and themselves as they complete five tasks in full gear weighing 50 lb. First, climb a five-story tower with a 45 lb. hose and deposit it in a box at the top. Second, hoist a 45 lb. hose from the ground to the top of the tower and leave it with the first. Third, return to the bottom of the tower and use a 9 lb sledge hammer to move a 165 lb sled a distance of five feet (simulates chopping) before running 140 feet around cones. Fourth, pick up and drag a charged hose weighing 150 lb to hit a target. Fifth, drag a six ft-tall, 175 lb. rescue mannequin 100 feet to safety.

"A likely qualifying time for the final would be 1 minute 37 seconds or less," explained Earls. "Men and women complete the same course regardless of age though rival pairs are matched as closely as possible to encourage a competitive edge and spectacle."

"Penalties are incurred for not performing each task proficiently," added Guernsey. "The hoses must be positioned correctly; you mustn't miss steps as you descend the tower; you must negotiate all the cones... We won the 2008 World Championship by 1.5 seconds. Had any one of us incurred a penalty, we wouldn't have the trophy or any of the other awards we've won."

"We're excited and ready to go!" concluded Guernsey and Earls.

Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge participants pay for their own travel, board and lodging and competition fees. Donations and sponsorship, which are tax deductible, are welcome.

Checks, payable to "LOCAL 1689" and noted "Team NorCal Firefighters Challenge," can be mailed to Fremont Firefighters Local 1689, PO Box 1134, Fremont, CA 94538.

For more information about the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, visit

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