More than 85 firefighters, dressed in their best bunker gear, donned oxygen masks and took on the “toughest two minutes in sports” at Panzer Kaserne during U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s inaugural Firefighter Combat Challenge, Oct. 28.
Firefighters from as far away as Berlin joined nearly a dozen German departments from the Stuttgart region, Army teams from Ansbach and Baumholder, and the garrison’s own fire department.
“Today is a great team building event, not only for our own department, but a great opportunity to work together with all the other fire departments in the area,” said Michael Ambacher, USAG Stuttgart Fire Department chief.
Divided into five stations, the challenge kicks off with a five story stair climb with each firefighter carrying a 42 lb. hose. Once they reach the top of the tower, the competitors hoist up another 42 lb. hose roll five stories After descending the tower the firefighters then hammer a mallet into a 160 lb. beam until it moves five feet. The course ends with a breach and firehose shoot, followed by dragging a 175 dummy 100 feet.
“I could taste the iron in my blood,” said Torben Petersen from the USAG Stuttgart Fire Department about the stair climb.
Peterson, who just joined the garrison this February, was impressed by not only his teammates, but the other German teams.
“The main point of this event, I think, is connecting with the other guys,” he said. “From time-to-time we have to work with them responding to calls, it’s so important to have those strong relationships.”
Throughout the day competitors competed individually – further divided if they were masked up and on air or not, tandem and a five-person relay. A good time for solos is under 3 minutes, a great time under 2. The top time during the inaugural garrison event was 1:37.83 by Martin Erbe from FCC Berlin.
Erbe’s relay team also took first, but Filderstadt Feuerwehr gave the professional competitors a run for the money, only coming in a few seconds later.
Christoph Wolfinger, a firefighter with Filderstadt Feuerwehr, said he and his teammates reveled in the competition.
“I love those split seconds right before the start of the competition, where your adrenaline is high and you’re comparing yourself to the competitor next to you,” Wolfinger said. “Then you have that release as your racing through the course.”
After the competitions he said he looked forward to enjoying Panzer Kaserne’s food court and sharing a beer at the USAG Stuttgart Firehouse with his new American friends.
The origin of the Firefighter Combat Challenge dates back all the way to 1975 as a way to validate firefighters, and by 1991 became a full fledged competition. An ESPN broadcast in 1993 would coin its “toughest” catch phrase.
The origin of the Stuttgart’s event, however, began with a chance conversation over whiskies between then-garrison commander Col. Matt Ziglar and Ambacher in the Panzer Firehouse’s Keller – the recently renovated old community bar beneath the station.
“He said, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we did a firefighter combat challenge,’ I said 'yea' not thinking too much about it… a month goes by and I get a call from my boss asking about this firefighter competition we’re doing,” Ambacher laughed, “I thought we were just joking, but then he told me ‘you’re doing it.’”
And this October they did.
“It was 100 percent worth it,”Ambacher said. “We hope to do it again next year.