By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — In oppressive heat and high humidity, the Scott Safety Firefighter Combat Challenge lived up to its reputation.
Dubbed the "toughest two minutes in sports" during its days as a broadcast staple on ESPN, the challenge was all that and more in the parking lot of the former Summit Park Mall on Saturday and Sunday. The challenge was part of the Pets and Paws Jamboree, a fundraiser for the SPCA of Niagara.
It was the competition's first visit to Western New York and organizers were pleased with they found.
"We did pretty well, really," Combat Challenge Marketing Manager Michael DeGrandprie said. "The local teams did great. We don't get this far north very often. We hoped for a good showing from Canada and we got that, so we're very pleased."
Canadian firefighter teams and individuals did exceptionally well. A Hamilton, Ont., firefighter turned in the second fastest individual course time in this year's competitions.
The Niagara Falls, Ont. Fire Department team, which had never competed in a team relay before, finished an impressive second.
In all, 54 individual firefighters and 20 department teams took part in the challenge. The challenge promotes and showcases the talents, skills and athleticism of firefighters in a competition that simulates what are described as the “essential skills” of firefighting.
Traveling to more than 20 locations across the U.S. every year, the firefighters who complete wear full turn-out gear and an air pack and carry that 75 pounds of gear as they climb a five-story tower, drag and use fire hoses, pull a 175-pound dummy and simulate breaking through the roof of a building.
"Everything, even the heat and humidity here, simulates what firefighters face when they fight a fire," DeGrandprie said. "These guys are incredible. They are akin to world class athletes."
If you question that, DeGrandprie pointed out that one firefighter in the competition went up and down the five story, with his 75 pounds of gear, in under 35 seconds.
Challenge officials said they are already in talks to bring the competition back to the Falls, perhaps as soon as next year.