A few members of Okotoks Fire & Rescue recently competed at the Southern Alberta Regional FireFit Championship at Spruce Meadows.

The FireFit Championships are an annual competition where firefighters compete in several physical challenges based on the tasks they regularly have to perform in emergency situations.

The Spruce Meadows event, held on June 15 and 16, was a regional qualifier for the national event, which is being held in Kamloops this September.

Captain Ryan Chigol with Okotoks Fire & Rescue, a FireFit veteran, says this was his first time back in the saddle after a few years.

"I started competing back in '06 and I competed for roughly 10 years. Then I took a nine-year break, so this was my first competition back, to knock the rust off."

One of the championships Chigol competed in was held in Okotoks back in 2012, though he was with the Thompson Fire Department out of Manitoba at the time.

He was joined this year by five other Okotoks firefighters, and together they made quite a name for themselves.

"We did quite well. We had three members who'd never competed before, and we had myself and two other members who have ran before. We actually qualified for nationals in every event that we did," says Chigol.

Chigol qualified for the Individual Over 45 Men's category, FireFit newcomer Lisa Barton was third in the Open Women's, and together they placed second in the Mixed Tech2 Relay.

Okotoks Fire & Rescue also had teams competing in the Men's Relay and an additional Mixed Tech2 Relay.

Their feats are made all the more impressive by the fact that Barton, Amanda Mason-Espin, and Tim Houghton had just competed in the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge in Calgary a week prior, with Barton having gotten the top women's time.

The FireFit events are strenuous, to say the least.

Chigol explains the tasks that make up the Individual Relay.

"You start at the bottom of the stairs, you throw a 42-pound hose pack on your shoulder, run up six flights of stairs, you have to put the pack in a designated area or you get penalized. After you put the pack in the little box, you reach over the railing at the top of the tower and you have to, hand over hand, pull up a 45-pound hose donut roll over the top, and throw it in the same designated area. Then you've got to come down the stairs hitting every stair, if you miss a stair, you're penalized."

Those are just the first three of seven tasks.

"Once you hit the bottom, you come up to a forcible entry machine, a Keiser machine. It basically takes 500 pounds of force to move this thing and you have to hit it twelve inches, then you drop the hammer in a designated area, then you run through a serpentine course of hydrants. Once you get to the end of that, you pull a charged hose line over your shoulder, go about 75 feet to a gate, open the nozzle, and hit a target down. Then you drop the hose and nozzle and then you come up to a 175-pound dummy, Rescue Randy, we call him, and you've got to pick him up and hold him up vertically, then go backwards 100 feet to the finish."

All of this is done in full National Fire Protection Association firefighting gear, including an oxygen tank and mask.

Okotoks FIreFit, courtesy of Stephen Pond.A look at the Force Machine task. Photo credit: Stephen Pond Outdoor Photography.

Naturally, the Okotoks personnel thought they'd better get prep in leading up to the competition.

"We started training for this regional in roughly the beginning of April. That's coming in on your own time, outside of work, and they're probably an hour and a half to two-hour training sessions."

They were able to replicate much of the FireFit course for their training sessions.

"At Station 2, the south station on Woodhaven, we actually have a hose tower that's exactly six flights of stairs, so we have that to train on. Our department supported us and got us a Keiser machine made by a fabricator in town, and we have a Rescue Randy as well. We can pretty much simulate the entire course, but it's a little longer, it's not quite to spec."

Photo credit: Stephen Pond Outdoor Photography.Lisa Barton carrying a 175-pound "Rescue Randy" in the seventh task of the relay. Photo credit: Stephen Pond Outdoor Photography.

Chigol says the six Okotoks competitors will soon meet to discuss who wants to commit to competing at the national championship, with things like training time and travel costs to consider.

He does intend to continue onto the national event in Kamloops, and he's glad to see that quite a few of his fellow Okotoks firefighters are interested in giving it a go in the future.

"We have other interested members who didn't compete this year but came out and cheered us on and took in the atmosphere of the course, the comradery, and meeting other fire departments. They kind of got the bug, saying that next year they'd like to try it. We definitely gained interest from starting up this year."