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Big Crowds Cheer on Firefighter Challenge at State Fair

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Organizers say the first Firefighter Combat Challenge at the Nebraska State Fair went very well. So well, in fact, they think they may double the number of competitors when they return next year.

A siren signals the start of what’s known as “the toughest two minutes in sports.”

“The Firefighter Combat Challenge is five firefighting tasks that are set up in an obstacle course-type fashion, firefighters compete against each other on a race course,” explained Ron Beckman, Challenge Operations and Fleet manager.

There’s a tower climb with a 42 pound hose, then a hose hoist at the top with another 42 pound hose. Next is a forced entry simulation, moving a 160 pound steel beam five feet with a mallet. Then competitors sprint to a hose drag, which can weigh more than 200 pounds by the time they push through saloon-style doors and spray a target. Finally a 175 pound rescue dummy gets dragged 106 feet, and it’s all done while wearing around 50 pounds of gear.

Or, as the firefighters racing each other, the clock, and their own endurance say, it's a normal day in a much shorter amount of time.

“Occasionally you have to pick somebody up and drag them out of a building, even in a case where maybe it’s a cardiac arrest, they arrest in a bad spot, somebody has to pick them up and get them out of there. So that’s why we’re training, building upper body and lower body strength to actually do our job,” said Lonnie Mitteis, a Grand Island firefighter.

Mitteis is an eight year Challenge competitor, and helped bring it to GI and the Nebraska State Fair for the first time.

“It worked out really well. We got guys from all over the country to come down here and compete, and we’re really happy with our event, really happy,” he said.

The Challenge takes place in around 20 places before a big finals each year.

“We want the public to come out and watch these firefighters that are around them every day and see what it takes to be a firefighter,” said Beckman.

Mitteis says around 3,000 spectators came to watch the Challenge in its two days at the fair, something organizers are excited about.

“Even at World’s last year - this crowd was unbelievable, and they were after it, they were cheering, it was wonderful. The competitors just absolutely loved it,” he said.

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