District 228 Students Tackle Firefighters Combat Challenge Course
6 a.m. might have been an early wakeup call for some students, but for a brave group of 43 from D228 it was the right time to take on the National Fightfighters Combat Challenge course. In the end Oak Forest and Tinley Park high schools took top honors.
Gym shoes pounding on steel steps, a metal sledge hammer swinging into an 80-pound weight, high school students hooting and hollering and firefighters overseeing all the action?
It might sound like a weird fire drill, but it was Bremen District 228 students taking part in the high school portion of the National Firefighters Combat Challenge in Oak Forest, which is staged in the Food 4 Less parking lot.
The challenge, which includes an obstacle course testing several core skills involved in firefighting, takes place this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and on Friday, D228 students took a turn at the course before the pros.
As the morning sun peeked over the horizon, students from Oak Forest, Tinley Park, Bremen and Hillcrest high schools hit the course in teams of five to see which school could take home the first place trophy.
“This is probably the highlight of the weekend, honestly,” said Oak Forest Fire Deputy Chief Charley Sopko. “You get any kid who can cheer at 6:30, 7 in the morning, that's a miracle in and of itself.”
After a brief introduction to the course by Sopko, students got in a little practice before firefighters broke out the stopwatches for the timed event.
Two teams from each school took the course, one made up of freshmen and sophomores, and one of juniors and seniors. Each team member was responsible for one portion of the course in the relay-style event.
The course was scaled down from the actual challenge, which pushes firefighters to haul 45 pounds of hose up a five-story structure, then hoist another 45-pound hose up five stories via a rope, before heading down the structure. From there, competitors slammed a sledgehammer into an 80-pound metal block, moving it roughly five feet before moving on.
Next up, the team members had to navigate a cone course before hauling a fully charged—meaning full of water—hose about 100 feet, before tagging their final teammate. The last leg was a 110-pound dummy drag to the finish line.
The high school students only hauled the hoses on the first two legs of the course three stories, but that was more than enough, several competitors said.
On the freshman and sophomore level, Oak Forest High School took top honors with a time of 1:26.23. The team was comprised of Jeff Sprayberry, Nour Salah, Julian Raczka, Claire Holewa, and Addison Johnson.
“When I was practicing it wasn't that bad … but when you get towards the end, man,” Raczak said, who handled the full hose haul for the Bengals. “I think we did good, everyone had their strengths and weaknesses, but I think we did good.”
For the juniors and seniors, Tinley Park High School grabbed the top spot, with a time of 1:31.78, narrowly edging Oak Forest by just four seconds. The Titans team was made up of Dan Shaunessey, Angelica Lafemina, Alyssa Gunther, Diamond Beatty, Scotty Hedstrom and Elliot Williams.
From Sopko's perspective, the event was a major success and he said that the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System 24, the group of fire departments hosting the event, was also very pleased with the turnout.
The actual National Firefighters Combat Challenge competition kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Food 4 Less parking lot. All donations collected will go directly to MABAS 24.