U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Academy Firefighters returned to the world stage to defend their three world titles Nov. 8 at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge XIX in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Firefighter Combat Challenge is a set course with five events that simulate the physical rigors of battling a working fire that demands a peak level of fitness and firefighting skill as the competitors race against the clock to complete all tasks.
Firefighters compete in several categories, including as individuals, teams, tandems, relay teams, with duplicate categories for higher age groups, co-ed and women's teams.
In regional competitions, an individual must finish the course in less than 120 seconds to advance to the national competition, and it is often fractions of a second which can be the difference between advancing or just finishing the course.
At the 2009 world competition, Academy teams won world championships in three categories: women's team, over-40 team, women's tandem and took runner up in men's team. The women's team and tandem were actually combined teams, featuring members of the Academy Fire Department and Colorado Springs Fire Department.
This year, the Academy is sending virtually the exact same teams to the world competition in hopes of repeating their world championships. The Academy's open team consists of team captain Pat Craft, Bill Gates, Anthony (Tank) McMurtry, Hans Barkley and Tyler Moran. The Academy's Over-40 Relay Team consists of Ken Helgerson, Ron Prettyman, Dan McAuliffe and Rod Sanders.
The Fire Fembots ladies relay team consists of Senior Airman Jessica Morehouse, Elaine Perkins and Andrea Caraway from the Academy Fire Department and Lt. Stacy Billapando and Lisa Smith from the CSFD.
In preparation for this year's challenge, Academy teams have been training for the past year, competing in several regional competitions and training with other firefighter challenge competitors.
The Academy and CSFD competitors always train at the Academy, and the Peterson AFB team also uses the Academy fire training course to sharpen their competition skills.
But for the last week, other competitors have been at the Academy, some from Denver's Metro Fire Department, and a team from the Royal New Zealand air force.
"We've got a strong relationship with the guys on the Air Force Academy team," said New Zealand air force Cpl. Hayden Kinzett. "I've known Bill Gates for about four years now, and Tank about the same. We went to Texas last year to train at the DOD Fire Academy, and thought it would be good to come up here and get some high altitude training in before the worlds."
The Academy fire training area has a training area built to Firefighter Combat Challenge course specifications, and sits at just under 7,000 feet altitude.
The various firefighters and coaches have met throughout the week to discuss and refine their individual techniques, in their neverending quest to shave a few more fractions of a second off their run times.
To follow the latest events at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge, visit www.firefighterchallenge.com