Soaked in sweat after his second race Sunday, Lexington firefighter Jeremy Bruner, 32, described racing up five stories and dragging a 175-pound dummy in 80-plus-degree weather, all while wearing 70 pounds of gear.
"It's tough," he said between chugs from bottled water. "It's like 10 times as hard as it would be with tennis shoes and shorts on."
Bruner and several other members of the Lexington Division of Fire competed in the 2010 Firefighter Combat Challenge at the Hilton Suites at Lexington Green. About 400 firefighters from 20 states and Canada competed for medals, bragging rights and trips to the national championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in November.
In addition to climbing and dragging the victim, firefighters raced to hoist a 40-pound hose to the top of the tower, sprinted more than 100 feet carrying a pressurized hose and moved a 150-pound beam by hitting it with a sledgehammer. Most teams finished it all in less than 2 minutes.
The competition is held all over the world and has aired on ESPN and Versus TV channels, but the challenge was not originally created for sport.
Firefighter Combat Challenge creator Paul Davis, 65, said a faculty member at the University of Maryland developed the course as a fitness test in the 1970s. "It wasn't until '91 that this thing started as a sports competition," Davis said.
Kentucky has hosted a regional competition for the past four years as part of a $1 million-a-year statewide initiative to promote health and wellness of firefighters, said Ronnie Day, executive director of the Kentucky Fire Commission.
Day said Kentucky joined national health initiatives after learning about five years ago that Kentucky was second in the nation in line-of-duty deaths. "It was heart attacks, it was strokes, it was vehicle accidents," he said. "And it was a statistic that nobody was proud of."
In addition to paying for the cost of hosting the Combat Challenge, the yearly grant is used for training, equipment and a program called Candidate Physical Agility Testing, or CPAT.
Starting in 2013, paid firefighters in Kentucky must have a CPAT card, which tells a fire department the cardholder is fit to do the job, Day said.
Being physically fit was a must for firefighters who competed in the challenge Sunday.
"You got to be in shape. If you come out here not in shape, you could possibly hurt yourself," Bruner said.
Results of the regional Firefighter Combat Challenge are available at Firefighterchallenge.com.