White Sands Missile Range Firefighters dominated in a firefighter competition held in El Paso, Texas, where they competed against 19 other fire departments Oct. 15 at the Kip Hall Memorial Combat Challenge.
WSMR firefighters had the fastest time in the relay competition and won first place in the individual competition.
Firefighters William Dempsey, Dan Tate, Ignacio Perez, Adan Favela and Capt. Jordan Medina have been consistently competing together for the past four years. Each member of the team has been working as a firefighter for the past eight to thirteen years. Two weeks prior, the firefighters also competed in the Scott Safety Firefighter Combat Challenge in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where firefighter Victor Mancha and Capt. Noel Salas also competed with the team. At the Carlsbad competition the team qualified to compete at a national level with a time of just under two minutes.
“First responders must be fit in order to perform their primary duty of firefighting and being able to rescue people from a fire,” said WSMR Fire Chief Carlos Soto. “Firefighter challenges not only enhances their firefighting skills but also showcases their level of fitness.”
Though the WSMR team had the fastest time in the El Paso competition, the team was disqualified due to a baton that was dropped during the competition. During the relay competition a baton is carried throughout every challenge much like in track relay races.
“We did very well,” Dempsey said. “There are several different guidelines so we weren’t able to get a medal, but we had the fastest time.”
Firefighter Ignacio Perez said he was responsible for dropping the baton during the competition.
“Even though I lost it for my team they still told me to hold my head up high,” he said. “That’s how much of a family we are.”
Perez said he wanted to make it up to his “fire brothers” so he decided to compete in the individual competition, where you wear an air mask that is equivalent to breathing air out of a straw, just to show his level of commitment.
“It’s a lot of fun and a lot of team bonding,” he said. “They’re my fire brothers. I was being really hard on myself and they told me to keep my head up and I wanted to do something to show them how much it meant to me.”
There are three different categories in the challenges; individual, tandem and relay. In tandem two firefighters have to compete in all of the challenges, in the relay competition you have a team helping you complete the challenges. The Scott website describes the competition as a head-to-head race that simulates the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a linked series of five tasks. The tasks include climbing a 5-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized, 175 pound, “victim.”
The WSMR team said they all train in different ways for the competition.
“It’s a combination of going to the gym and doing training runs here at the tower,” Dempsey said.
The stair climb must be performed wearing a 45-pound pack, after that you have to hoist a 45- pound hose up to the tower. The firefighters must also use a forcible entry tool to make their way through the door. After the tower exercise, the participants must then do what they call a “hose drag”, where they drag the hose throughout a serpentine of cones and finish the challenge carrying the 175 pound “victim” through the serpentine of cones.
Firefighter Dan Tate placed first, for the second year in a row, in the individual competition, where he had to complete all of the tasks on his own while breathing through an air mask. He also participated in the relay event with his team. Tate said he had trained for the event a lot harder this year because he wanted to defend his title from his Fort Bliss rival. His teammates joked that they thought he wouldn’t be able to do it this year since he just became a new dad. Tate said he and his wife celebrated their daughter turning 10 months old, during the competition.
“Our wives and families are very supportive of it and always very encouraging,” Dempsey said.
The second place winner, Tate’s rival from Fort Bliss, is also ten years younger than him. Tate was 19 seconds ahead of him in their final time.
“He really trained hard for it even on his days off,” Dempsey said. “He puts a lot of effort.”
The firefighter challenge season starts in April and ends in October with the national competition. Dempsey said their local union helps pay for training and the gear needed to participate in the competitions. He said the team will be training to participate in the national competitions next year, even though they qualified this year they were not able to attend due to their schedules and funding. The team said they not only receive a lot of support from the union but also from WSMR Fire Chief Carlos Soto and the garrison leadership.
WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Dave Brown and WSMR Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. William Wofford attended the El Paso competition and stayed until the awards were presented.
“We’re lucky to have the support of our union and our management who help supply what we need to train,” Dempsey said.
“We have 100 percent support from our workforce, leadership and the union,” Favela added.
The challenge not only brings about a bond within the team and helps settle rivalries, the team said it also helps them understand what their limits are and to train to improve. The training not only proves to be beneficial for the team that competed but also for the entire fire department.
“It serves as a good tool for the rest of the crew and helps set the standard,” Medina said. “It gives us a marker and helps us gain confidence, not only within ourselves but within the community. They can trust in us that we can do our job.”
“It’s a good self-assessment,” Favela added.