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Canadian firefighters had their best showing ever at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Las Vegas in November, claiming victories in seven categories and beating seasoned veterans and previous champions.

January 8, 2010
By James Careless

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Canadian firefighters had their best showing ever at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Las Vegas in November, claiming victories in seven categories and beating seasoned veterans and previous champions.

Waterloo, Ont., firefighter Dwayne Drover won the men’s competition with a time of 1:26:51 – his best ever on the international course and the best time by a Canadian since 2004. Fredericton, N.B., firefighter Ryan Hallam was second at 1:28:76 while Kamloops, B.C., firefighter Graham MacKenzie came third at 1:29:34, squeaking by two-time Canadian champion Joe Triff of Halifax. Triff came fourth at 1:29:66. Six other Canadians placed in the top 20.

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Canadians Dwayne Drover of Waterloo, Ont., and Shaun Henderson, of Oakville, Ont., accept the gold medals for the two-man relay, or tandem, event at the World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Las Vegas in November. The two shaved two seconds off the world record with a time of 1:14:70.  

Drover, 34, also won the championship in the two-man relay, or tandem, with Shaun Henderson of the Oakville Fire Department in Ontario, in 1:14:70, two seconds faster than the previous world record. The Kamloops team of MacKenzie and Mike Brown came third in the tandem at 1:18:53 followed by Darren Hillman of Windsor, Ont., with three-time world men’s champion Brandon Cunningham of Fort Graham, Ga., in fourth at 1:18:84 and Halifax’s Triff and Mike Sears in fifth at 1:20:50.

According to a story in Henderson’s hometown newspaper in Oakville, Drover had fallen a few seconds behind the competition in the final heat of the tandem event when he handed off to Henderson. “The veteran firefighter dug deep and began to close the gap on the leader,” the story says. “At the finish line, carrying a 175-pound rescue mannequin, Henderson thrust himself and his charge over the threshold, narrowly beating his opponent with his final effort.”

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In the team event, the MonctonMoves.com group of Jason Bergeron, Matt Dunfield, Marcel Dupuis, Collin Powers and Jamie Richford demolished the competition with a winning time of 4:41:72. That was 2.5 seconds faster than second-place Team NewGold from Kamloops (4:44:16). Halifax Fire 1 came fourth at 4:45:07 (the team also finished fourth last year). Two other Canadian teams finished in the top 10 – Team Westshore Terminals from Delta, B.C., at 4:51:81 and Windsor Team Parker Construction in 5:05:62.

The top female was also a Canadian. Jacqueline Rasenberg of York Region Fire Department in Ontario came first with a time of 2:42:99. Julie Read of Halifax Fire came fourth with a time of 2:59:07 and Toronto’s Danielle Comolli came fifth at 2:59:95. Rasenberg has won nine medals since placing second in the Canadian competition 2001 with a time of 3:02:19.

Windsor’s Hillman also claimed the top male over-40 title in 1:35:43. Cyril Fraser of Halifax won first place in the over-50 race with a time of 1:53:62 and claimed the over-50 tandem title with Newfoundland’s Jack Hickey in 1:26:05. Four-time Canadian FireFit medal-winner Jimmy Kolar of Sudbury, Ont., placed third at the international event in the over-45 race at 1:45:90, followed by Mark Millward of Delta in fifth at 1:48:94 and Randy Kalan of Brantford, Ont., in eighth place at 2:07:38. Brian Jones of the Belleville Fire Department in Ontario placed third in the over-55 category at 2:23:60.

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The firefighter combat championship course, erected on the historic Fremont Street in Las Vegas, allowed thousands of spectators to watch the action.


 

The championship course, erected on the historic Fremont Street in Las Vegas allowed thousands of spectators to watch the action. Hundreds of firefighters from Canada and the U.S. were on hand, plus others from Argentina, Chile, Germany, new Zealand and South Africa. The event was broadcast in the U.S. on the Versus TV network (formerly the Outdoor Life Network).

At 1:26:51, Drover outpaced 131 competitors including three-tie champion Cunningham. A committed competitor, Drover has won many events in Canada since he began racing in April 2005. He was fourth in the worlds in 2008 with a time of 1:33:04.

“My buddy Steve MacCullouch from Guelph [inducted into the FireFit Canadian Hall of Fame in 2006] told me that I should try running a competition to see how fit I was,” Drover said in an interview. “I felt fine until I grabbed that dummy. My first thought was what the heck am I doing?”

Since then, Drover has become a fixture at firefighter athletic events. To prepare for the worlds, he followed a rigourous training regimen that included numerous eight-to-10 mph runs on a treadmill inclined at 15 degrees, running stairs, and squats on a Bosu ball.

“As soon as you’re done a sequence, the body gives one big sigh and says, ‘thank you’,” Drover quips. “I find that, with training, my recovery time is quicker, so that I can do more exercise over the same time period.”

Drover did two things to improve his odds when he arrived in Las Vegas for the 2009 worlds. First, he avoided partying before the event, preferring to spend his time training and resting. Second, Drover took part in all the qualifying races to become fully familiar with the course.

“A lot of people say you shouldn’t do this, and when I eased off on the last day before the actual race, people said I had peaked too early,” he says. “But I hadn’t, and when race day came, I was calm and ready.”

Drover exploded out of the starting line when the race began and made his way up to the top of the tower with his hose bundle. “I kept pace with [Brandon Cunningham] up to the rope pull,” he says. “No one had ever done this before. Then [Cunningham] had a mis-pull on the rope that cost him time. By the point where I crossed the finish line after hauling the dummy at full speed, I looked back and saw that he was still three-quarters of the way back. I dropped to my knees; I couldn’t believe that I’d won!”

The Moncton Fire Department’s MonctonMoves.com team posted a better time than its world-winning 4:41:72, scoring a personal best and jaw-dropping 4:09:72 at the Canadian championships in September.

This team had worked long and hard for the 2009 worlds. “We started in the second week of January,” said team member Matt Dunfield. “We began in the gym, and when the good weather came we were able to add time working out on training towers. I think we did two-three hours a day, four-five days a week.”

Dunfield says the team event was fairly intense because of the calibre of the competition. Fortunately, “everyone ran a personal best that day, and did so cleanly. You couldn’t have asked for a better race.”

The venue helped to psyche the team up, says MonctonMoves.com’s Jason Bergeron. “[There’s] one word to describe worlds at first: exciting! I was also surprised to see the amount of spectators supporting all of us. This event really brings out the brotherhood of firefighting that we all share.”

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2009 World Firefighter Combat Challenge over-40 tandem winners – with a time of 1:19:98 – Byron McDonald (left) of Owensboro, Ky., and Windsor, Ontario’s Darren Hillman. Hillman came fourth in the individual event at 1:18: 84.


 

“The worlds are excellent,” adds MonctonMoves.com team member Jamie Richford. “Las Vegas sets it up as a main stream event and makes you feel like you’re part of something big. From all the lights to the huge overhead TV, you feel like you’re at the big show, that’s for sure!”

Jacqueline Rasenberg has competed at the worlds for nine years running. In the first four, she belonged to a female relay team that won annually. She has also won twice as part of a tandem team, once setting a world record. Besides winning the open female category at the worlds this year, Rasenberg and Denise Townshend from Petawawa, Ont., came second in the  tandem race at 2:12:64 followed by Julie Read and Melanie Edwards of Halifax in third at 2:18:29.

“I’ve been in sports all of my life,” Rasenberg said. “I went to university on a track and basketball scholarship. Once I became a firefighter, I stayed active. But when I saw the firefighter challenge on TV nine years ago, I knew that I had to compete.”

Rasenberg spends about 12 hours a week training, including workouts on a trial course in Richmond Hill, Ont., and at the gym. In Las Vegas this year, “I felt more confident than usual waiting for the race to begin,” she said. “What really told me that I was doing well was how I felt at the top of the tower. When you feel good after doing the stairs, you know that you are going to have a good race. This time, my legs felt great and I had no trouble finishing the rest of the course.”

For Windsor’s Darren Hillman, 2009 marked his eleventh appearance at worlds but his first time back since taking a year off.

“The difficult part for me was coming back, expecting to jump back in where I’d left off,” he said. “It’s a big mental game, doing this event. It took a few races under my belt to get my mental conditioning back.”

His advice for budding competitors? “Be patient. It takes a lot of training to be able to do this event. You can always tell the guys who have done the work: They make the event look easy.”

Top male over-50 winner Cyril Fraser is an old hand, having participated in the worlds since 1995. His 1:53:62 winning time is the result of 10 to 15 hours of training every week.

“It’s almost addictive running this race,” he says. “You get a little rush from it, which is what keeps me coming back.” This was Fraser’s first individual win at worlds, an impressive accomplishment along with the victory in the tandem event.; “In my age category, I do pretty well,” he said.

As for this year? Don’t be surprised if all of these winners return to Las Vegas. “The Challenge is a great way to keep yourself in top shape, physically prepared for any call we respond to,” says Colin Powers of MonctonMoves.com .

“I take part in the competition because of the camaraderie and the initiative to try to get fit,” adds teammate Marcel Dupuis. “Besides, taking part in worlds is amazing!”


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