Westfield team earns fourth place at national firefighter challenge

A group of Westfield firefighters credit hard work for the smiles on their faces and the pride in their hearts.

Kyle Ericksen, Jeremy Devitt, Justin Anderson, Matt Hansen and Trevor Hash took their winning streak to the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge U.S. Nationals Oct. 10 through 12 in Montgomery, Ala., where they placed fourth overall.

“It’s a good feeling. We work with a lot of Type A personalities and didn’t expect a lot of kudos. A lot of people I didn’t know cared told us we made Westfield proud,” Hansen said, adding the team qualified for the world competition in Las Vegas two weeks after nationals but decided to pass because of financial reasons.

In addition to the team accolades, Hansen earned a membership in the Lions Den with a top 10 individual course time at Nationals. One minute 38 seconds also was Hansen’s personal best time.

“It’s an elite club that everyone shoots to get in,” Anderson said. “It pushes me because I’m right behind him.”

The start

This is the third year Westfield has had a team participate in the global competition. Hansen, the team captain, said he, Anderson and Ericksen saw the event televised on ESPN and “wanted to try and do it.” The firemen began working out in their firefighter gear and trained for months before entering their first competition in Evansville.

“It was awesome. I fell in love with the camaraderie,” Hansen said, adding the group quickly learned it was training incorrectly. “We were focused more on short bursts and not aerobics.”

In 2011, they qualified for the world championships, but opted to wait until 2012 to compete. To keep the momentum going, the team added Zach Moore, a professional trainer, in 2012.

“That’s what took off the most time,” Hansen said.

The group moved into the 2012 season with a renewed vigor, placing in the top three in the majority of its races and competing at the world championship with a time of 5 minutes and 51 seconds. Since the group began competing at the national level, Hansen said the team times have improved from 6 minutes 29 seconds in 2011 to 5 minutes 16 seconds at nationals this year.

“Each year this team has made big gains,” he said.

The team’s discipline is commendable. It trains two to three hours per day for five or six days every week, sometimes hitting the pavement three times per day.

“I plan my off days around my workout,” Devitt said. “When I was hired my recruit class went through the course and I loved it. I’m in better shape for the job.”

Working hard

While the competitive season is over, the team continues to constantly train. Hansen said the off-season is used to work on strength and cardio training.

“It is my hobby. It’s hard because I have two kids but I have to find time to do it,” Hansen said. “We all come from a sports background, and I miss competing.”

The challenge seeks to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public. Wearing “full bunker gear” and breathing apparatus, pairs of competitors race head to head as they simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a linked series of five tasks including climbing the five-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized 175-pound “victim.”

“We race as individuals and everyone does the whole race,” Hansen said, adding the top three times compile the total team time. “It’s an obstacle course with all fire-related skills.”

Hansen said training has made the group better at their jobs.

“There is not a single job on the fire ground we can’t do,” Hansen said. “We’re used to having extra weight and our bodies being in high intensity for up to five minutes.”

The team said the course challenges them physically and mentally.

“It’s humbling for sure,” Anderson said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a lot more mental than people give it credit for.”

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