AEDC team proves up to the challenge of Annual TUFF competition

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A total of seven people, representing (Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), joined approximately 200 fire¬fighters from across the state to test their skills and compete in the fifth Annual Tennessee Fire Fighter (TUFF) Challenge at the Tennessee Fire Ser¬vice Codes Enforcement Academy in Bell Buckle Sept. 29.
The event was open to Ten¬nessee firefighters and fire de¬partments only.

The firefighters competed in timed relay events in five cat¬egories, including ventilation, hose hoisting and climbing, victim rescue, forcible entry and a hose advance evolution, all of which simulate what they might have to do in a real emergency.

Each member of a team com¬pletes one phase of the course before handing off a spanner wrench as a baton to the next member.

Besides the teams participat¬ing in this year's TUFF Chal¬lenge, there were approximately 51 firefighters, including eight women, who were individual competitors in the event.

"There are a number of rea¬sons to hold a TUFF Chal¬lenge," said Daryl Lopes, Aerospace Testing Alliance's (ATA) fire chief. "It builds strength, basic fire fighting skills, team¬work and camaraderie - among our team and among other de¬partments we compete against - which are the same firefight¬ers who we will work with in response to any mutual aid scenario on base or in a neigh¬boring community."

The TUFF Challenge is also an annual fund-raising event for the state of Tennessee Fire Codes Academy's proposed Tennessee Fallen Firefighter Memorial. In the last five years, the competitors and the relatives of firefighters killed in the line of duty have raised more than $100,000 toward an expected goal of around $200,000.

"This is a great event - it really builds physical fitness, sharpens your skills and builds teamwork because every evolu¬tion we do in the competition is a reenactment of an actual skill you might use on a fire," Lopes said, adding that Arnold had one five-member team participating in this year's competition.

"We also had three people from AEDC participating in the competition on an individual basis," he said. "The reason we enter this competition is simple - we volunteer because we love the competition and camarade¬rie and we want to support the memorial for the 78 Tennessee firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty."

Lopes said the event is fun, but he also described what it takes to compete successfully - teamwork, stamina, coordi¬nation and last, but not least, technique.

"Wearing nearly 45 pounds of firefighting equipment, we attack the high rise stair climb where you carry two 50-foot sections of inch and a half hose up four flights of stairs," he said. "This is a relay event so the first firefighter throws the hose pack on his shoulder, and runs as fast he can up the stairs.

That person hands off a baton to a firefighter on the balcony who hoists a 30-pound "donut" roll of 2 ½ inch hose from the ground using a rope. That firefighter then runs down the four flights of stairs and hands off the baton to the firefighter on the forcible entry simulator.

"During the next evolution, the firefighter uses a forcible entry simulator called a Kaiser Sled," he continued. "He uses an eight-pound sledge hammer to strike a metal weight back five feet - that metal weighs 90 pounds so it's a tough task that takes a lot out of you. He hands his spanner wrench to the next firefighter who runs 100 feet downrange and then advances a fully charged 1 ¾ inch hose line 100 feet and hit a target with a stream of water.

Finally, the last firefighter drags a 175-pound rescue dummy backwards 100 feet to complete the event. It's a grueling combination of evolu¬tions that leaves the entire team completely drained of energy."

Last year, Chief Lopes com¬peted in the team event and also participated in the individual competition in the over 40 cate¬gory. As it turned out, he was the first chief fire officer to compete as an individual.

"This year they created the chief's category because of my involvement last year," he said. "This year the chief from Cleveland and I competed in this new category.

Chief Atchley, from Cleveland, took top honors with a time of three minutes, 43 seconds. My individual time was four minutes, six seconds. That's a 50 second improvement over my time from last year, so I don't mind finishing second."

Chief Lopes said AEDC and ATA were exceptionally well represented this year.

"John Mark Pigg, an ATA paramedic/firefighter, finished in third place in the over 40 category with an outstanding time of 2 minutes, 27 seconds," Lopes said. "This is the first time an AEDC member has placed in the competition and represents a great accomplishment. John challenged himself personally during training and it really paid off. Our team turned in its best time ever and placed 14th out of 32 paid fire departments in the competition with a time of 2 minutes, 27 seconds.

"Not bad for a team with an average age of 48 years. I am always proud of our teams, but this year they really raised the bar. Charlie Armstrong is our team captain and his leadership was irreplaceable, as was the grit and determination of team mem¬bers Richard Gunn, Jay Baldwin, Pigg and Lee Brassfield.

Chief Lopes said this was also the third consecutive year that Jay Spry from ATA Human Re¬sources competed with Arnold's fire department participants.

"Jay is a firefighter with the Tennessee Air National Guard and has competed fiercely in both the team and individual events," Lopes said, adding that he was very thankful to see a considerable number of family members, friends and Repre¬sentatives from ATA's senior management on hand to cheer on AEDC's participants in the competition.