Fighting Fires and Building Partnerships in Poland

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This was Team Spangdahlem’s second time participating in the Szczecin Firefighter Combat Challenge held in Szczecin, Poland.

While the competition simulates various things that could happen  on-the-job, it’s still tough; especially because it involves back-to-back obstacles completed in full firefighter gear. That’s no easy task when gear can weigh up to 50 pounds.

“Simulating an actual fire, we run up the stairs with a hose, we hoist tools up to the tower, we use the Keiser force machine — which is a forcible entry simulator — and then we run to grab another hose to fight a fire,” said Gerd Mueller, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter crew chief. “The final task is the victim rescue, a 175-pound mannequin that we carry more than 30 meters, which is pretty tough.”

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In order to get through the grueling five-stage course, the team trained – a lot.

“Personally, I train six days a week, I do Cross Fit, run stairs at the fire station, pull hose, weight lifting, and our team runs the actual course three times a week … these competitions are very demanding on your body,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsales, 52nd CES firefighter.

This was Gonsales’ third time competing in a firefighter challenge in Europe.

But not everyone is an expert; it was 52nd CES firefighter U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Scott Weeks’ first firefighter combat challenge competition.

“I decided to enter this challenge because I thought it was really cool that we do our job competitively, competing against firefighters all over Europe, Asia and the United States,” Weeks said.

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Weeks reflected on his performance this past weekend. “The individual race was pretty hard — I’m not the strongest guy — the hardest part was at the end the dummy drag, I felt it slipping out of my hands, I made fists and just told myself , ‘don’t let go!'”

An awards ceremony ended the two-day event. Mueller took home the first-place trophy in the 40-50 age categories.

“I am proud,” he said. “I not only represent (Germany) and the United States, I also represent our job and that’s what is most important to me. I’m proud representing Spangdahlem fire department.”

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