Inspired by the Firefighter challenges in Europe, John Gregory, a firefighter at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, wanted to start a similar competition in the UK. In only five years, the British Firefighter Challenge has become one of the fastest growing events in the fire service community.
"The challenge tests your strength, speed, and mobility. But what it tests most is your endurance, having to complete each of the eight stages, one after the other, without slowing down. That's not forgetting the mental strength to finish the course when every alarm signal in your brain is telling you to quit!"
The Challenge sees participants complete eight gruelling stages, carrying over 30kg of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and breathing apparatus, which makes the already demanding test of strength even tougher.
Contestants have to climb a three-storey tower, haul up a length of 70mm delivery hose, descend the tower, proceed to the Forcible Entry Machine and use the hammer to hit a weight the full distance of the machine. Then they must connect a length of hose to a light portable pump delivery, pick up the branch and drag the hose 60 metres. Following that, they must roll up a length of hose and carry it to its box. Next up, four foam containers weighing approximately 20kg each must be collected and carried. For the grand finale, a 70kg drill dummy must be dragged to the finish line!
This year saw 30,000 spectators across the weekend, with 48,000 more streaming the event live online. There were 186 individual competitors from the UK and abroad, plus 23 relay teams, compared to just 70 competitors in 2016.
The incredibly demanding dompetition pushes firefighters to their limits and raises funds for The Fire Fighters Charity which provides physical, financial or mental health support for opperational and retired firefighters. This year, the competition had its best year ever, raising a record £7,000 for the charity over the two-day event. The support of the event sponsors, the children that took part in its Junior Challenge or joined for a ride-along on the Mini Fire Engine all contributed to making the day a real success.
The organisers of the British Firefighter Challenge and representatives of Team GB: John Gregory, Robert Budge, Michael Joseph, Christopher Trendowicz and Chesney Conu-Heywood represent firefighters from across the UK. John Gregory is proud of his team: “We represent Team GB in Firefighter Challenges all over Europe, and that’s how we became friends with the HAIX family.”
Training for the Firefighters challenge is a feat in itself
Finding the time and energy to train can be extremely challenging. John advises breaking each section down: "improve your stair running, work on sprinting, not just running, work with resistance and weights similar to those used on the course and get familiar with dragging a 70kg dummy! Do not underestimate how challenging the 50m casualty rescue is."
Is it worth it?
"The Challenge is also focused on bringing together the whole fire service. We are a competitive group, so when each person improves, it drives us all to improve. It is also inspiring to watch some of the times achieved by the local service men and women. These are not professional athletes receiving coaching and nutrition; they are firefighters that work and serve in our communities. All of us maintain our health and fitness to be the best in our line of duty. It’s fantastic to see so many Firefighters improving every year.”
Heroes wear HAIX
The event saw competitors from India, Kuwait, USA and even Australia participate. May Tommervold, sponsored by HAIX, put in an excellent time of 3:23 seconds in her first British Firefighter Challenge, and was the fastest female competitor, an inspiration to all our competitors.
Team GB (sponsored by HAIX) saw Pete Wakefield take silver medal, John Gregory take bronze in the British Male category and a further nine medals won by the team!
And how did John do? "When I crossed the finish line, I came close to passing out with exhaustion. I gave everything and pushed my body to its limits, and I felt proud of the effort I put in and the time I achieved. A new Personal Best!”
Next year's event is taking place on Saturday 25th to Sunday 26th July in Hull, UK.
Photos by Kay Zieba Photography