Eight Yukon firefighters have just returned from Vernon, British Columbia after successfully competing in the Pacific regional Canadian firefighter challenge, coined FireFit.
With most completing the grueling firefighter-inspired obstacle course in just above two minutes, team captain and Tagish fire chief Boyd Pyper said the teams are only getting stronger.
Yukon has two combat teams: Whitehorse Fire Department and the territory-wide Yukon Fire Service, made up of some of the Yukon’s strongest, mostly volunteer, firefighters.
After competing successfully in 2015, the Yukon team couldn’t raise enough money to get to the nationals. But this year they’ve been fundraising hard and are ready to take on the national-level challenge set for Calgary in September.
Though the official results from the Vernon competition have yet to be released, Pyper said he is pretty certain the Yukon teams will make the cut to nationals, with the Whitehorse team coming in at 1:20 for the relay race, behind this year’s relay champions, Calgary, who came in at 1:11. Pyper himself clocked in a personal best at 3:20, up from 5:26 last year.
Team coach and deputy fire marshal James Paterson, who Pyper describes as “so fit it’s frightening” and Pyper himself secured gold and silver metals respectively for the officer category. Pyper said leading by example is “what a good chief does,” stressing that it is especially important that officers – who tend to be older – remain as fit as possible.
Individuals and teams challenge themselves to the course, which has participants run to the top of a multi-storey tower carrying a 40-pound hose, smash through a 250-pound door simulator, drag a fully charged water hose 80 feet and then haul a 175-pound mannequin to the finish line, among other challenges in between.
All this carrying 20 pounds of gear while breathing through an oxygen mask, which Pyper describes as “sucking air through a straw.”
This year’s champion Graham Mackenize from Kamloops, British Columbia completed the course faster than it can be described: a jaw-dropping 1:18 seconds.
Team coach Paterson has a long successful history with the competition, having made the world championships during his previous reign as team leader in 2003-2007. After breaking from participation for a number of years, a tragedy impelled Paterson to get the teams up and running again.
Fire chief Kurt Gantner died at just 49 years old from a massive heart attack in 2011, a victim of the number-one killer of firefighters in Canada. By promoting physical fitness, Firefit aims to ensure firefighters’ often middle-aged bodies are prepared to endure the stress and strain of their jobs.
Special dedication this year went out to the firefighters of Fort McMurray. “One of the guys participating this year, his house burnt to the ground. He saved other peoples homes and lost his own,” Pyper explained. So the teams raised money for him, with one winner of a 50/50 draw for a $600 top-of-the-line helmet putting it back into the pool for a future draw.
Yukon’s team hopes to bring the Firefit championships to the territory in 2018. Though no women are on the teams yet, Pyper said there is interest and he hopes a local championship will help draw
Yukon’s mighty women firefighters into the challenge.
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