Next weekend, firefighters will converge in Altus to compete in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge “Dr Pepper Regional Championships” in hopes of qualifying for the world championships in Montgomery, Ala. in November. The event is known as the “toughest two minutes in sports” and has been televised by ESPN, Versus, and CBS sports. This will be their first stop in Altus since 2008, thanks to major contributors, James and Carla Thompson of Vernon Dr Pepper, the Altus Southwest Area Economic Development Corporation, and Rent City.
Altus can witness some of the top fire athletes in the world competing in categories that include: individuals, over 40, over 50, female, relays, tandems, (open, over 40 and over 50). Firefighters from Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and possibly Canada will travel to Altus to compete. Team member Jimmy Rogers anticipated bringing more than 80 firefighters and families to Altus.
The Tandem and Relay races begin at 8 p.m. Friday night, July 17, and the individual races begin at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, July 18, in the Sears parking lot, 2700 N. Main in Altus.
The public is invited to watch the free events and to bring children to participate in the free “Kid’s Crawl, Drag and Squirt” challenge, sponsored by First National Bank and the Wilmes Auto Group. This is an opportunity for children ages 4 through 10 to run through a small version of the obstacle course, just like the real firefighters. Next to the competition site, the children will climb an inflatable tower, spray real fire hoses and drag a victim mannequin to safety.
Rogers said the Friday Night relay races the most exciting of the events to watch. “The races are head to head with the winner moving on to the next round. You cheer your team and see who wins the round instead of waiting until the end. That’s what everybody gets excited about.”
The Altus firefighters are in their 17th year of competing in the Firefighter Challenge competition. They have qualified for the world championships every year, and have won numerous competitions. They have been the Over 40 relay World Champions (2004), Over 40 National champions (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009), numerous Regional champions, and own more than 30 State championships in different categories.
“We’re a small department with 32 members, counting administration. Over half of our department has competed over the years,” Rogers said. “We compete with larger departments and have always performed well.”
The competitions give firefighters a reason to stay in top physical condition and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public. The Altus firemen practice at the tower behind the North Main Fire Station.
Altus Firefighter Blake Hasty, last year, earned his “Lions Den” jacket by besting the 1:40 individual time. He is the 4th member from Team Dr Pepper to qualify, but the 1st in the open category, and just the 2nd in state of Oklahoma, ever. Hasty said he competes for challenge, comradery, and to keep physically fit. “We work out every shift, then as we get closer to Nationals, we ramp up the intensity. I share training information with friends from Canada, California, and Texas.” Hasty said. “It’s unusual to compete with competitors that share their secrets and cheer you on as you are racing to beat their time.”
Modeled after aspects of fighting fires, the individual (running the entire course) and the relay-team events (with up to five participants) are divided into five segments and the winners accomplish the simulated firefighting tasks in the shortest times. The participant wears 50 pounds of firefighting gear, including facemask (in the individuals) and a breathing apparatus. He picks up a 42-pound hose pack and climbs a five-story tower. At the top, he places the hose pack in a box and, using a rope, pulls up another hose roll. Next, the contestant runs down the tower stairs and jumps on a Kieser force machine (a 160-pound beam on a metal sled). Using a 9-pound sledgehammer, he drives the beam five feet down the metal rail (simulating cutting a hole in a roof with an ax), then places the hammer on a pad. In the final stages, he runs through a serpentine path, picks up a charged line (fire hose containing water), drags the hose 75 feet through a doorway, then hits a target in a 10-inch target with the water and runs backwards 100 feet while dragging a 175-pound mannequin.
According to Rogers, the top firefighters in the world make the course look easy. It was once considered impossible to complete the course in less than 2:00, now it takes a sub 1:50 to qualify for the World Championships. Spectators just don’t have any idea about how strenuous it is; it is grueling,” he said. “We’ve seen one team (five individuals) where none of them finished; one got up the tower and they had to remove his gear and walk him down; he couldn’t get down by himself.”
“This is going to be a big deal for Altus; it is an opportunity to place our department and our city on display. It’s going to be a positive thing for everybody.”
James and Carla Thompson with Vernon Dr Pepper has sponsored the Altus Firefighters for 16 years and is providing Dr Pepper products and water for competitors. Rent City will provide food and refreshments at the hospitality tent for volunteers and competitors alike. Altus Air Force Base Fire Department has been involved from the start and is providing Rehab trailer for competitors. Jackson County EMS will be providing medics, ambulances, and supplies. Help is also being provided by Chief Abbott, and Phillip Beauchamp.
Sponsors for the event are Vernon Dr Pepper, Rent City, Altus Southwest Area Economic Development Corporation, First National Bank, KEYB/KKRE/The Big Dog, Bill Kennedy Plumbing-Heating-Air, Bill Hubbard family, Wilmes Ford Superstore, Wilmes Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Advocare independent distributor / Cheri Petzold, NBC Oklahoma, Scott Kennels / Mickey and Teri Hasty, Stockman’s Bank, AAA Portable toilets, Red River Federal Credit Union, Altus Printing and Shamrock Bank.