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Sandy Journal

World’s fittest firefighters come to Sandy to compete

Jan 05, 2023 03:24PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Sandy firefighter Ollie Smith is triumphant after he finishes the Firefighter Challenge World Championship with a personal best time. (Brandon Hardman/Sandy Fire)

The world’s finest firefighters came to Sandy Oct. 10-15 for the Firefighter Challenge World Championship. In the event, firefighters from 11 countries competed in the grueling tasks that keep them fit for their jobs. Two competitors from Sandy and others from around Utah made our state proud. 

“With us hosting the event, it was important to show up and participate. I was excited to represent Sandy. This year I ran the obstacle course in 2:15, which was a huge improvement from how I did last year,” said Oliver Smith of Sandy Fire. 

The challenge was held at The Shops at South Town. In the week-long competition, the obstacle course is the main event. In it, firefighters simulate scenarios they face during a real fire while wearing full gear and race to see who can get the best time. 

“My personal goals are to stay functionally fit. I love lifting weights, and it’s a standard part of my training, but I did step it up a little knowing I was going to compete. It’s a good benchmark of how fit you are for the actual job,” Smith said. 

Smith was cheered on by his family and team at Sandy Fire, a great benefit of the competition being held in your own backyard. 

  Sandy Fire Chief Ryan McConaghie said he was proud of Smith’s performance and of how the whole team helped during the event. He loved walking around the venue hearing different languages and seeing the flags of the countries represented. He also helped the Ukrainian team find their hosts, the David Jack family.  

The event was put on by ServPro, the First Responder Institute and partners at the South Valley Chamber of Commerce. 

ServPro’s official statement read, “It’s an honor for us to sponsor this event, which has been dubbed ‘the toughest two minutes in sports.’ It’s been held here in Utah as both a regional and national competition; however, the 2022 Challenge is especially exciting because it is the capstone event—the 2022 World Championships.”

Garrett Arnold of Sandy Fire got in on the excitement and competed for the first time this year. He didn’t change up his training much and got a time of 2:40.

“I heard about the event in the past when we hosted nationals and they needed medical help, so this time I decided to give it a try. My brothers and sisters from the fire station came and cheered me on; it was because of them I was able to finish it,” Arnold said. 

A finishing time of 2:40 is impressive. Firefighters don full gear for the five obstacles, starting with a run up the stairs of a five-story tower. Then, they hoist heavy hoses and ropes to the top. 

After the rope hoist, competitors run back down the stairs where they pick up a 9-pound mallet and pound on a chopping simulator. This mimics what a first responder might have to do to break down a door.  

The next step is to carry a fire hose and “negotiate a 140-foot slalom course,” then hit a target with the water stream from the hose. Time penalties are assessed for missed marks or sloppy moves. 

The final event is the victim rescue. Competitors drag a dummy (no carrying allowed) backwards for 106 feet to the finish line. The rescue dummy weighs 175 pounds. All of this is done while the firefighter is still in complete gear. 

“That dummy drag is hard. You get to the end and you’re already exhausted, and then you lift that dummy and—holy smokes! It’s heavy,” Arnold said. 

Smith and Arnold were fortunate one of their team members is also a photographer. Captain Brandon Hardman took pictures and captured the proud moments of extreme competition. 

Arnold already plans to compete again next year when Sandy hosts the West Regional Championships July 20-22. He likes the fun competition, but it also keeps him prepared for his job serving the people of Sandy and supporting his partners at Sandy Fire. 

“I really like all the individuals who work there. They’re nice and easy to get along with, and we all love the community we serve. Most people in Sandy are just hardworking people who have an emergency and need help,” Arnold said. 

The last days of the competition are more formal. There’s a flag ceremony and awards are given. Mayor Monica Zoltanski was at the event, happy Sandy had the opportunity to host it. 

“Sandy City was honored to welcome firefighters from all over the world and the United States to the Servpro Firefighter Combat Challenge. The combat challenge promotes and publicly celebrates firefighters who serve our communities. 

“The heroism of these men and women and their extraordinary athleticism is truly an acknowledgement of their dedication. It was an exciting event and the city was elated to support the cause,” Zoltanski said. 

The competition’s reach stretched outside of Sandy. Unified Fire Authority’s participants included Barrett LaJeunesse, Chandler Kingsbury, Kelly Bird, Mike DeGering, Tyson Rogers, Justin Austin, Patrick Costin and Mike Christensen. 

One Utah competitor, Nick Motta of South Davis Metro Fire, earned bragging rights when he finished the course in under 100 seconds. That gave him a spot in the coveted Lion’s Den. 

“There is so much physical and mental benefit to competing in an event like this. It’s been one of my personal goals, but training for it has also helped me on the job and formed good health habits,” Motta said. 

To prepare for the event, Motta added some training to his typical routine, including creating a simulated course at his house. 

Motta and his wife BreeAnn are both active in getting the word out about healthy habits to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease, which Motta said is the No. 1 killer of firefighters. 

Motta’s finishing time of 1:37:59 was a personal record for him and his family was there to cheer him on. He’d love to see more firefighters from his team at next year’s competition. 

Motta was impressed by the firefighters from around the world and said working with them was a huge morale boost. 

“I was practicing with the teams from Europe and they’re not here to mess around. There’s a culture in firefighting of hard work, support and healthy competition,” Motta said. “It’s good to remember that camaraderie exists around the world.”