Bringing the Firefighter Combat Challenge to Bellevue
Enter the Firefighter Combat Challenge: Firefighters in “full bunker gear” and the Scott 5.5 Air-Pak breathing apparatus, racing head-to-head as they simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a series of five tasks including climbing a five-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses, and rescuing a life-sized “victim.” The Challenge seeks to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public.
This year, we were fortunate to host a Firefighter Combat Challenge on July 11-12 at one of our centers – The Marketplace at Factoria in Bellevue, Washington. We spoke with Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department, Community Liaison Officer and an organizer of the Bellevue Challenge, to find out how the Bellevue Fire Department took the nationally-recognized event and made it their own.
Could you tell us about the Firefighter Combat Challenge and what inspired the event?
Lt. Richard Burke: The Firefighter Combat Challenge has been going on for over 20 years, and it’s an event that travels around the country, and highlights the physical requirements of the job as a firefighter. It takes into account a number of different types of events from being in full bunker gear, climbing stairs with a hose pack, your breathing apparatus, and hoisting hose, dragging hose, and using a large sledgehammer, which is something we would use up on a roof to help with ventilation. The final event requires dragging a 175-pound dummy backwards out of a structure to simulate pulling either a victim or one of our own out of a building. So it’s physically demanding, but it’s very specific to our profession. We happen to be a competitive group of folks, both male and female, but it forces us to be a little bit better at our physical fitness, and I think it’s a nice way to share with the community exactly what we do, in a non-threatening way.
What was your role in organizing the Challenge?
Burke: My role is a sort of a representative of the host city, as this is our 50th year as a fire department here in Bellevue. So 2015 has been a celebration for us. We’ve had a number of events and we wanted to highlight 50 years of service here within our community, so we’ve worked hard in conjunction with the coordinating group from the Combat Challenge as well as with Sunbelt Rentals to bring the Challenge to Marketplace at Factoria in celebration of our 50th year. It’s a continuation of a number of different events that we’ve had as part of this celebration.
How did you get involved with Kimco and the Marketplace at Factoria?
Burke: Well, I used to be the company officer in the fire station that served that area. I was just up the street from the center — we do a couple of events down there every year. One is the kid’s fair where we park one of our out-of-service units in the middle of the indoor mall. Outside, we have the big red firetrucks and we have such a great response from the community. Every year, the kids come and I think we probably give away between 500 to 1,000 little red helmets and kids crawl on firetrucks, taking pictures for their moms and dads, and the police are there as well. We kid the police that they’re actually there to see us but they just happen to be there. It’s all in good fun. But it’s just such a wonderful event and a very diverse community in and around the mall, so it’s fun to break down a few of those barriers. Where some of the folks come from, people in uniform that have a badge sometimes aren’t the nicest folks. So it’s that nonthreatening friendly atmosphere on a beautiful Saturday morning, to have kids and firefighters trying on bunker gear and looking at equipment and talking with folks. It goes a lot further than just giving out that little red hat. It really helps bond our community.
What other local fire departments and organizations were involved in the event?
Burke: There were representatives from fire departments as far away as Sacramento, California. We had a number of teams come down from Canada. Those Canadians are tough, we battle them every year. We also had folks come from Idaho and Montana, Eastern Washington, so it’s kind of a regional thing. It’s a big deal to bring this to town, so it draws folks from all over the region. And a number of folks are trying to qualify for the nationals, which are in Texas, and the worlds this year are being held down in Alabama.
How many teams participated total?
Burke: There’s the individual races, there’s a tandem race, and then there’s a team race which is four people. We had about 15 to 18 teams, and about the same number of tandems. And about 30 individuals ran. So 50 to 70 people running total. One of the restaurants in the Mall, Novhillos Brazilian Steakhouse, provided a gift certificate to the top team. Many of the competitors and spectators enjoyed the amenities of the mall and its many stores and restaurants.
What other activities took place over Saturday and Sunday?
Burke: Well, one of the neat things is that right next door to us was an antique car show that just happened to be on the same weekend. Another thing is our sponsor, Sunbelt Rentals, brought up a manlift that they had painted and designed as a tribute to the Wounded Warrior Project. It’s won a number of awards for its paint job, and they actually shipped it all the way up from, I think, Southern Carolina. We made a collected donation from the firefighters that contributed as well as Sunbelt Rentals and a number of other agencies that have contributed to make this happen, to the Wounded Warrior Project. So being able to do that and help some of those that have created what we have in this country is pretty neat.
Tell us more about the Kid’s Firefighter Combat Challenge?
Burke: What a great event. Over 190 kids went through the Kid’s Firefighter Combat Challenge. So what they did is they’ve kind of created a mini version of the Challenge. They have a little bunker here for the kids, little helmets, and they don’t have to wear it, but they pick up a two-pound, three-pound hose bundle, and they run down the course and they spray a little tiny garden hose at a target, go down an inflatable slide, through this little inflatable tunnel, and then they jump on a Keiser Force Machine which is what they beat on with our hammers, and then they run through the course. It is just a kick. Parents get to walk through with them, or they can have one of the firefighters go through with them, and then they all got a little red hat afterwards. It’s just a great way to meet the community and share it with kids.
How many people attended the event?
Burke: We had approximately 1,500 to 1,800 spectators over the course of the weekend. We promoted it on all of our social media sites, all of the local media outlets, and set it up for the weekend so more people were able to participate.
What do you hope the event will achieve in the community?
Burke: At the end of the day, I really hope that people have the opportunity to just ask questions, and that the folks that participate in this are happy they are here. It’s a lot of work to do this — it’s a tough event, they call it the toughest two minutes in sports. But it gives the community an opportunity to ask questions about what we do. We’re always looking to diversify our ranks and get more people involved, especially people from other backgrounds and other countries. Some folks don’t come from an area where people with badges are the friendliest, so if we can get more of them into our ranks, it makes us a better organization. That’s one of our goals.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Burke: Just that it’s a real honor being able to do this and share it with our community. We truly appreciate Factoria Mall participating alongside of us. They’ve just been wonderful to work with and we couldn’t do it without them, that’s for sure. The crew from ON Target, the parent company of the Firefighter Combat Challenge, stated that this was one of the most well-attended and successful events that they have done and they hope to return in 2016!
Interested in knowing if a Firefighter Combat Challenge is coming to your area? Check out the tour schedule here.