Gander firefighters getting FireFit for upcoming challenge

Published on July 6, 2017

GANDER, NL – Catching his breath following an intense round of training, 15-year FireFit veteran Owen Whelan finds himself on the receiving end of some good natured ribbing.


“Maybe we’ll put a chair halfway through so you can rest,” quipped teammate Joshua Gillingham.



Whalen is quick to get his own dig in, reminding his younger teammate that he’s still the quicker of the two. 



It’s their way of keeping the extreme training regiment – three times a week, 12 months a year – light hearted and entertaining.



And the four-member team (Whalan, Gillingham, David Shea and Thalel Habib) will be the first to point out that it’s all in good fun, and they are actually there to support one another and encourage them to strive for their personal best. 









The obstacle course, designed to simulate fire related activities, is billed as “the toughest two minutes in sports” 



Whalen, breaks down the course.



Decked out in 45 pounds of fire fighting gear, six flights of stairs have to be scaled while shouldering a 45-pound pack. 



The pack has to be placed into a specific box.



“When you get to the top of stairs you’re lungs are screaming at you and your brain is telling you you’re stupid,” he said. “You have to overcome that and move onto the next task.” 



Then it’s reaching over the railing to pull up a 42-pound donut pack up the six flights.



“You lose 50 per cent of your grip strength because you wear firefighter NFPA gloves,”  



On the descent, every step has to be touched, with both hands on the rails.



The Kaiser block, designed to simulate forcible entry, requires 500 pounds of torque to move it 12 inches – estimated to take 10 50-pound smacks. 



The hose has to be dragged 75 feet, the more hose uncoiled the heavier it becomes. The last 10 feet is equivalent to pulling 300 pounds, before opening the nozzle to hit a target.



A 175-pound rescue dummy has to be dragged to the finsh. 



“It’s a 12 month training season, this is not just a weekend event,” said Whelan. “If you’re not prepared mentally and physically it will destroy you. It’s a course that’s going to exert a pain and a stress that you’ve never felt on your body in such a short time.”



With no dedicated course in Gander, a lot of improvisation comes with the training. 



The ground component, in which the team is the fastest, can be set up in the fire hall parking lot.



However, the six flights of stairs present the challenge. 



Usually runs the arena, and has even enlisted the help of a local hotel.



“We have tremendous support from Quality Inn because they let us run their back stairwell, which is the only six flights we can get in Gander, on slow nights,” Whelan said. 



As a result the team has been producing some great results, picking up a third place finish two years ago, and just two weeks ago Whelan placed fourth in his age group during a Calgary event.



 “Our respect has grown the last couple of years, and everywhere we go, they recognize that Gander is here and we’re serious,” Whelan said. 






Editor’s note:



The team will be competing in the Atlantic Regionals, in C.B.S. Aug. 5-6. This will also serve as a qualifier for nationals in Ottawa in September.