Firefighters dominate competition

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Craig firefighters continued the department's tradition of capturing firefighting awards when they won the state championship in a team competition Friday.

The "running events" are timed races in which teams of three firefighters rush to couple hoses and spray down targets. The fire station is stocked with numerous trophies collected during more than a decade of competing. Teams from Craig Fire/Rescue dominated the event in recent years, winning the championship in 2001 and 2003.

In 2003, the teams won first and second places and set a state record. This year, local firefighters again won first and second places and set another record. They had to race in the hail storm that battered Alamosa, where the competition was held.

"At one point, the weather got downright nasty," said Byron Willems, a firefighter who also serves on the Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board of Directors. "We were literally running in a hail storm."

The competition consists of four races. Two begin from a standing start, and two begin when the firefighters jump from a truck moving about 15 mph.

The two Craig teams were tied going into the final event, Willems said. A team of younger firefighters, called the "silver team," beat the veteran "black team," which had to change its roster after losing two members of the 2003 team.

The final event, called the "changeover," begins when the firefighters jump from the moving truck and one of them hooks a hose to a fire hydrant. The two other team members race to the end of a hose, where one of them shoots down a target with a stream from the fire hose. The third member of the team then clamps the hose off while the shooter hooks up a wye connector. Then the "clamp man" and the player who hooked up the hydrant race to the ends of the two hoses connected to the wye and complete the event by knocking down two more targets.

The whole race takes about 13 seconds, Willems said. The event requires extraordinary teamwork, Willems said.

"It's amazing to accomplish all those things in such a short amount of time."

But the events don't necessarily translate to better firefighting. Willems said the event just fosters team camaraderie and competition between agencies. It gives the firefighters a chance to represent for their local departments, Willems said.

The running events were one part of the Colorado State Fire Fighters' Association's 87th Annual Convention. Firefighters also participated in training exercises, such as the "flashover simulation," in which they wear protective gear and stand in a room where "all the fuels in the room ignite at the same time," Willems said.

Willems, Jason Pickett and Troy Hampton made up the black team. The silver team consisted of Brian Slaight, Chris Mercer and Steve Lingo.

Traditionally, the previous year's champion must present a bottle of champagne to the new winners. Willems said it wasn't hard to hand over the bottle because a fellow Craig team took the title.

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