VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
When the state is as dry as a tinder box and brush fires are as common as Pokémon, firefighters get more than their fair share of practice. But when there aren’t any fires to put out, or Pokémon to catch, the next level of proficiency is competing against firefighters from all over the world in a sport that is as brutal as it is competitive.
A team of nine from Vandenberg recently stepped up their training game, in preparation for this year’s Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge held in Reno, Nev. in October. The competition originally started as a university-based research project, and has since evolved into a five-event obstacle course that simulates the rigors of structural firefighting.
“We have upped the frequency of our practices to every single weekend until we leave the first week in October to compete,” said Senior Master Sgt. Bronson Peters, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy fire chief. “We took a short break after last year’s competition to reset, and then started strength training in January, and then in March we transitioned to working on course specific events. You can be in optimal cardiovascular health, but nothing can replace getting out on the course and actually doing it.”
The team is larger than the six that competed last year, with some new faces added to the game the regular contenders are optimistic about their chances.
“We have nine team members this year and everyone is looking really solid,” said Peters. “They are all right around the two minute mark for the course. We have been representing Vandenberg and the Air Force since 2009, but last year we really made our mark by winning the western regional relay and setting a course record for that particular course.”
It is all about reaching the next level of fitness and training for these team members. They often take time out of their own schedules in order to train together.
“I have been doing this since 2009, and a lot of pride goes into it,” said Tech. Sgt. Joe Absher, 30th CES north battalion chief. “This is the next level of training and fitness for us. Our job already creates a lot of teambuilding, but being able to take this up a notch as a team is awesome and we always look forward to it. I also always try to include my family in the competition and training. I bring them all with me when I compete and they can really see the hard work that goes into it. I even get my kids involved and had my son out there training with us the other day. When my family is part of it, it makes it more worthwhile for me and for them.”
Although each member will compete individually, they excel while practicing the relay, demonstrating teamwork at a refined level.
“This year we are expecting to do as good as, or better than, last year,” said Lamont Brown, 30th CES fire engineer. “The relay has always been our bread and butter, it’s the event we shine on. We have a lot of guys from last year and some new faces as well. The new guys have all blown the Air Force physical fitness test out of the water and bring a lot of skill with them as well, which is just as important as raw strength.”
Spending close to 12 hours a week training, the culmination of all their hard work is never far from their thoughts, and takes an amount of discipline that is akin to prepping for a triathlon.
“Whenever we are in the gym, whenever we are eating meals; this is the single event that we are focused on preparing for,” said Brown. “Our team motto this year is ‘only the committed will thrive’. You can sign up for any event you want, but if you don’t put the work in, you won’t thrive. We have definitely put the work in.”