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Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Keith Chandler belly crawls through an obstacle course as he trains with other members of Tanner Volunteer Fire Department for a statewide skills competition.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Keith Chandler belly crawls through an obstacle course as he trains with other members of Tanner Volunteer Fire Department for a statewide skills competition.

A skill-building competition
Statewide event helping Limestone firefighters improve techniques

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

TANNER — Saturday’s 80-plus-degree heat didn’t motivate brothers Keith and Adam Chandler to lounge by the air conditioner or take a dip in a local swimming hole.

They strapped on 50 pounds of gear and ran sprints and crawled on the ground.

Heat dodgers might question their sanity, but the Chandlers, members of Tanner Volunteer Fire Department, have a reason for such activity on sweltering days.

Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments is hosting a statewide competition at its August conference. Fire departments will compete in three events, the obstacle course, air pack relay and hose lay.

Increasing speed

Tanner, East Limestone and Clements’ volunteer fire departments are among Limestone County departments that will compete, and firefighters have been practicing in the heat to increase their speed and skill.

Tanner Assistant Fire Chief Marty Posey said firefighters can put on that 50 pounds of gear in 15 to 20 seconds. That includes strapping on an air pack.

“Of course, your gear is laid out ready for you to get it on, but even on an actual fire scene, you want to be able to get in your gear within a minute,” Posey said. “These practices increase our speed, and the few seconds you can shave off your time getting your gear on can mean the difference in pulling someone safely out of a burning house or vehicle.”

This is Tanner’s third year to have a team. Posey said in addition to improving skill and speed, the practices and competition build camaraderie.

“You’re cheering each other on, and at the competition you’re cheering other teams on,” Posey said. “We’re all brothers in the fire service. Nobody is a loser in this because it’s making us better.”

Clements competed once before on the spur of the moment, but Fire Chief Jesse Rager said this is the first year the department has had an organized team.

Building a bond

“Yeah, it’s training and practice, but it’s fun too,” Rager said. “The firemen bond better and learn to rely on each other as a team. If one falls, the whole team falls.”

East Limestone Capt. Tony Kirk said his department was the first in the county to start competing about eight or 10 years ago.

Tanner volunteer firefighter Keith Chandler hands off a bundle to his brother Adam Chandler as they practice for an obstacle course relay.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tanner volunteer firefighter Keith Chandler hands off a bundle to his brother Adam Chandler as they practice for an obstacle course relay.
“Firefighters learn to get their gear on quicker and lay out the lines quicker,” Kirk said. “They can hone their skills.”

To battle the heat, firefighters drink plenty of water or Gatorade and take breaks.

“And as soon as we’re done, we strip out of that gear,” Posey said.

His team has practiced at different times of the day because the competition in Mobile will be an all-day event.

“That way we’re used to doing it in the morning, the heat of the day or evening,” he said.

Keeping safe

At competition, if the temperature is dangerously high, Kirk said the firefighters can compete without their suit liners.

“It can get pretty hot with all that gear on, so you have to be in good shape,” he said.

Kirk said that’s why he now leaves competition to the younger firefighters, like his son Andrew.

Posey isn’t ready to concede to the younger generation, although he admitted the heat, gear and physical work “wears me down.”

“I’m in my mid-30s, but I have to do a tad better than my stepsons,” Posey said, referring to Keith and Adam Chandler. “I don’t want them to come back and say, ‘We beat the old man.’ I want them to say, ‘The old man beat us.’ ”

Figuring out firefighter competitions

When firefighters compete in a state contest, what exactly do they do?

Here are brief explanations about this year’s three competitions.

  • Obstacle course: A runner unrolls a 50-foot section of hose, runs 20 feet and then runs in and out of pylons without knocking one over. The runner then goes through a crawl space and runs 20 feet and picks up a 50-pound duffel bag and carries it to a partner 50 feet away. The partner goes back through the obstacle course to the beginning. The fastest team with the fewest penalties wins.

  • Air pack relay: Four firefighters sit in a line of folding chairs that are 25 feet apart. The first team member suits up in full gear, including an air pack, and tags the second in line, who then suits up. This continues until the entire team is suited up. Judges confirm all gear is on appropriately. The team with the gear on correctly, with the least penalties, with the fastest time wins.

  • Hose lay II: Three firefighters start from the tailboard of a fire apparatus, run 10 feet and put on their gear. There are three hoses, and each firefighter must carry a section of hose to the obstacle course. One member unrolls one hose between pylons. Another member will unroll the second hose and connect it to the first. The third member unrolls the third hose and connects it to second. Then they advance the line 40 feet and spray a target, then advance the line and spray a second target. The fastest team with fewest penalties wins.

    Holly Hollman

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