Four Cache Creek firefighters will be taking part in the FireFit Championships on June 17-18, competing against other firefighters from around B.C. and Alberta for a chance to take part in the nationals in September.
Alana Peters, 2nd Assistant Chief of the Cache Creek Fire Department, says that she and Chief Tom Moe, 1st Assistant Chief Al Wiens, and firefighter Adam Newman are heading to Spruce Meadows, where all four will compete in the team event. Peters, Moe, and Wiens will also be taking part in the individual events.
It will be the second time that Peters has headed to FireFit. The first time was in 2019, when the event was held in Kamloops.
“It’s been going on for quite a while, but I didn’t know it existed until 2019, when a friend who worked for Tourism Kamloops contacted me and said ‘You have to do this.’”
“This” is a fitness challenge designed for firefighters, with participants wearing full turnout gear weighing between 40 and 50 pounds. The gear includes full breathing apparatus, and while team participants aren’t on air, individual participants have to do the challenge on oxygen: run out, and your race is over.
The event starts with a run up a six-storey flight of stairs, with each participant carrying a 50-pound hose reel pack on their shoulder. At the top, they have to haul a hose roll to the top via a rope, then run back down to a force machine that simulates forcing a door open, and use a sledgehammer to hit a block in the middle until the “door” opens.
They then run a slalom through fake hydrants, grab a charged hose line, and pull it 70 feet to shoot at a target with the water. The final task is to pick up a 175-pound dead weight dummy and drag it 150 feet to the finish line. People taking part in the team relay each do one or two segments, and pass a flashlight (like a baton) between tasks. Individuals do the entire course.
Peters says that in 2019, the five Cache Creek firefighters who took part (as a team, not in individual events) trained, but not aggressively. “We didn’t train a lot, as we had no idea what we were in for and how hard it would be. But we placed second in the mixed relay, and we beat Ashcroft,” she says with a laugh.
The FireFit Championships did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, but Peters says they’ve been training off and on since taking part in 2019, in preparation for when the event returned.
“We did fundraising for the FireFit team and felt obligated to do the work,” she explains, adding that it can often be tough for volunteer firefighters to find time for training and going to events.
“At the nationals there are separate categories for volunteer and professional firefighters, but there aren’t enough volunteer teams at the regional level to have a separate category, so we’re competing against professional firefighters, who train hard when they’re at work.
“We have to train around our regular jobs, and book time off to compete in events. I have a desk job, so I’m not exactly active, and have to push to get that extra time and fitness in that the pros can do a little easier.”
Since January, Peters has been sick about a week each month, which she admits has made training a little tough. The entire department has a training session every Tuesday, where the focus is on technique and the specifics of fighting a fire, and on Wednesdays the FireFit team has a session focusing on fitness.
“We have a coach, Nash Wiens, who kicks our butt every Wednesday, and it helps us know each other’s strengths and limitation. Sometimes it’s not family-friendly language we use to motivate each other, but it works when we train as a team. And the sessions are open for other firefighters who want to work on their fitness.
“I have a home gym in the basement and do weightlifting and cardio, and have equipment that simulates having gear on. I try to get five or six days a week of solid training, but I’ve had lots of setbacks since January.”
One of the main challenges, around these parts, is training for the run up the six-storey tower.
“Professionals have towers they can train on, but we don’t have any buildings that tall, so we have to figure out how to simulate running up six flights of stairs in full gear with a 50-pound pack. I’m worried about this aspect, because it’s hard to figure out how to train.”
One solution that Peters has tried is tackling the lower part of the Three Meadows Trail on the Mesa in Ashcroft. She’s also done the Stage Road hill in Cache Creek without running out of air, and completed the 5km Skip’s Run on June 5 in full turnout gear, doing most of it on air.
Having to be on air for the individual event is a challenge.
“It’s easier to breathe without masks, so being on air prevents people not wearing their masks properly,” explains Peters. “They do make things more difficult, because they get in the way, and make it awkward to pick up the dummy. I picked it up the other day and knocked my regulator off, so it adds a challenge in terms of technique.”
Peters says she had ambitious goals for the regionals, but is now concentrating on making sure she and the team qualify for the nationals.
“You have to finish the course in a certain time, which varies depending on the category. The nationals are in September, which would give us more training time.”
Peters says that firefighters who choose to take part in FireFit — especially the volunteers — need a certain amount of drive, plus a willingness to put themselves in uncomfortable situations.
“It’s not fun, but it is fun. It’s so hard, but you feel so accomplished when you complete it. We did a mock course in the Cache Creek coverall, and everyone was struggling, but it was great at the end, seeing the looks on everyone’s faces. We push each other, and we support each other.”
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