Despite the thrill of competition, Greendale firefighters at the 2008 Paul Davis Restoration Midwest Regional Firefighter Combat Challenge had other things in mind than winning.
The main draw was the opportunity to personally challenge themselves, build camaraderie with other fire departments and give the public a glimpse of what they do on a daily basis.
“There’s this perception out there that firefighters do nothing but sit in the firehouse and collect a pay check,” said Lt. Dean Kozelek. “But when the bell rings, we go, and this is probably the closest the common man will get to what we do on a daily basis, without the heat and smoke.”
Kozelek was one of four Greendale firefighters to compete in the individual portion of the Sept. 13 event at Konkel Park in Greenfield. Luke Amann, Kyle Kierzek and Kurt Risberg also competed in the course, which required contestants to suit up in full gear and breathing apparatus while climbing a five-story tower, hoisting and dragging hoses, using their axes as needed and, finally, rescuing a life-size, 175-pound dummy — all head-to-head with another firefighter.
Several firefighters volunteered for the contest last year, but this was their first experience tackling the course, Kierzek said. Although they practiced several times on a mock course set up at the Greendale Fire Station, they weren’t sure what to expect in the actual competition — except for an environment free of pressure to perform well.
“No matter how we do, everyone cheers for everyone and they’re all supportive,” Kierzek said.
Still, Kierzek said before the event that he and his Greendale colleagues aimed to keep their times to 3 minutes or less.
All four came close to achieving that goal, and their times were within about 30 seconds of one another. Amann finished fastest, with a time of about 2 minutes 31 seconds, and Kozelek rounded out the group, with a time of about 3 minutes 2 seconds.
Firefighters described the experience as exhausting.
“When I got to the dummy drag at the end, there was pretty much nothing left, but I knew I had another 100 feet to go yet,” Kozelek said.
Likewise, Risberg said there was nothing that could have prepared him for lifting the 42-pound, coiled hose up the tower — or the rainy weather, which made for a slippery course and slightly slower times.
In order to qualify for the world challenge to be held in November in Las Vegas, male firefighters under the age of 40 had to complete the course in 1 minute 50 seconds or less.
“It gives us something to shoot for next year,” Kozelek said.
Greendale Fire Chief Jonathan Cohn said he was happy with the level of participation from his department this year.
“We went from zero (participants) last year to four, so it’s obviously a proud moment to see our members competing,” Cohn said.
Julie Becker can be reached at (262) 446-6606.
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