Sirens sounded every few minutes in Oak Forest on Saturday, but it wasn't due to a police or fire emergency. Instead, the sirens were the official starting gun of the Scott National Firefighters Combat Challenge, taking place in the Food 4 Less parking lot.
The challenge kicked off at 10 a.m. with 58 firefighters set to take on the difficult course, which Bremen School District 228 students tackled on Friday.
In the end, it was the marquee match up of the day, between Justin Couperus, of the Hamilton Fire Department, and David Bowman, of the Charlotte Fire Department, that stole the show. The two men competed in the final solo race of the day, and left the crowd—and themselves—spent as the two finished in 1:34.75 and 1:33.52 respectively to take first and second place overall.
“This feels awesome, even with the little wobble over the barrier,” Couperus said after the race.
Of the 58 competitors, several were from local fire departments and each local firefighter proved his worth on the course and in the eyes of the crowd.
Area firefighters were: Vance Woods, from the Markham Fire Department, Juan Ramierz, from the Midlothian Fire Department, Dan Smith, from the Orland Fire Department, and Jeff Young, from the Lockport Township Fire Department.
For Smith the competition was a chance to compete with his fellow firefighters and see his training partner and friend, Evan Von Qualen, from Local 2061 Hoffman Estates Fire Department. Although Smith said that any time he steps to the starting line, there is little voice in his head asking, 'What are you doing?'
“Every time, as I'm going through the whole thing,” Smith said. “But, it's good.”
For Young, the competition served as a reassurance that not only is he still in top shape, but that he can continue to do his job at the highest level possible.
“I like the challenge of it, the competition, it's something to work out for, it's a nice goal to get a better time every year,” Young said. “Also, if there's any point in my life where I can't do this, I shouldn't be doing my job anymore.”
Earning top honors as a team was the Waukegan Fire Department, which earned them a spot in the National Finals, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in October.
The challenge continues Sunday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. with tandem and relay competitions. Before the challenge, there will be a pancake breakfast, which kicks off at 7 a.m. and runs through 11 a.m., with all you can eat for a $5 donation.