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Firefighters fit for duty

Contributed Those taking part in the SCOTT Fire Fighter Combat Challenge in Evansville, Indiana included (left to right) Chris Eddy, Shaynen Schmidt, Aaron Zollner, Bill "Same" Thoennes and Shane Schmidt.

On October 16, four Alexandria firefighters and one Garfield firefighter faced one of the biggest challenges of their firefighting careers in Evansville.

Well, Evansville, Indiana, that is.

The firefighters took part in a physical endurance test called the SCOTT Fire Fighter Combat Challenge.

The event takes place in 25 cities throughout the United States and in New Zealand, Germany, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.

It has aired on ESPN and the Verses channel on television.

Attending for the first time were Alexandria firefighters Chris Eddy, Aaron Zollner, Shane Schmidt and Bill "Same" Thoennes and Garfield firefighter Shaynen Schmidt.

The challenge, according to Thoennes, who is the first assistant chief for the Alexandria Fire Department, entails all aspects of the firefighting profession. Contestants must complete a course that's made up of six grueling stations, he noted.

Firefighters start by carrying 42 pounds of hose up six flights of stairs. This is equal to a five-story building.

Once they are at the top, the firefighters pull another 42 pounds of hose to the top of the tower they just climbed using a rope. Then, they must run down the six flights of stairs, being sure to hit every step on the way down to the bottom of the platform.

Next, the firefighters had to move a "Keiser Block," which is a 165-pound block of steel on a skid. They only had to move it five feet, but they had to use a nine-pound maul - a tool with a heavy head and handle - to do it.

"If you think that sounds tiring," said Thoennes, "think again. We were only half way finished."

Firefighters then had to run through a serpentine course back and forth around six obstacles to a "charged" hose line that was waiting for them. They pulled the line back 75 feet through a set of swinging doors, opened the nozzle on the hose and then had to hit a target with the force of the water before moving to the last and hardest station.

The last task, said Thoennes, was to lift and drag "Rescue Randy," a 175-pound life-sized dummy, backward 106 feet.

Now keep in mind, he noted, that all of the tasks were completed in full firefighter turnout gear, including a self-contained breathing apparatus.

"It was just like you would have to do if you were fighting a real fire," said Thoennes.

Thoennes explained that the local firefighters put in a lot of time training for the event.

On average, he said that group trained three to five days a week - even a few Saturdays - for about three months.

A course was set up at the fire station, but with modifications. Since there is not a five-story tower to climb inside the hall, the firefighters spent time training at Viking Towers at 7th and Fillmore.

"It was probably one of the most intense competitions we, as individuals, have ever participated in," he said. "After you cross the finish line, there are volunteers to help you remove your gear and then take you into the rehab tent because you couldn't move. Your leg muscles were just throbbing and you are plain worn out."

Thoennes said this was the first-ever competition of this caliber for the local volunteer firefighters and overall, he said it went very well.

Most - if not all - of the other 100 competitors were from full-time fire departments.

"There were some big boys we were up against and some of these guys participate in five to seven events every year," said Thoennes. "They're veterans at it."

Team Alexandria finished 12th overall. Individually, Shane Schmidt took second place in the 50 and older category and Thoennes took 14th place in the 40 and older category.

Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow fully supported the group of Alexandria firefighters, noting that they pushed the envelope on fitness and competition. Karrow said that in addition to the training, the firefighters were proud to showcase the Alexandria Fire Department and the city of Alexandria.

Thoennes concluded by saying, "I couldn't have asked for a better group of teammates to go to the competition with. We are very supportive and push each other to do our best. Being and staying fit is becoming more of a priority in the fire business."